A news article titled Young Conservative Is the Toast of Talk Radio from the LA Times made for some interesting reading during lunch today.
Seventeen year-old high school junior Tim Bueler, a self-described conservative, has created a bit of a headache for administrators of his school district with a Conservative Club he established for like-minded students. It seems some of the club’s publications have ruffled the feathers of some of the other students and members of the faculty at the school.
According to a timeline issued by the Cotati-Rohnert Park City School District, the controversy started Dec. 3 when the Conservative Club, which Bueler organized last fall, posted an inflammatory flier at the high school announcing the creation of a “Conservative Hotline,” where students could report examples of “un-American” comments by their teachers.
“Let’s take a stand against the liberal traitors who call themselves teachers,” proclaimed the flier, which had not been approved by the club’s faculty advisor as required under school rules.
On Dec. 12 Bueler inflamed matters by distributing a Conservative Club newsletter in which he wrote that “Liberals welcome every Muhammad, Jamul and Jose who wishes to leave his Third World state and come to America—mostly illegally—to rip off our health-care system, balkanize our language and destroy our political system.”
The statement was borrowed directly from the sayings and writings of nationally syndicated San Francisco radio host Michael Savage, whom Buehler credits for inspiration.
The club’s motto, “Protecting our Borders, Language and Culture,” is also a Savage slogan.
The resulting political turmoil—which angered some of the school’s Latino students and provoked a letter of protest from 40 school officials, including the nurse and Principal Carter—has tested the 1st Amendment tethers of this bedroom community about one hour’s drive north of San Francisco.
After several heated confrontations and complaints of “political harassment” filed by Bueler the outspoken teen has become the darling of conservative pundits and bloggers alike while the school district has gone as far as to ensure that an adult guard escorts Bueler from class to class during the day and out to his father’s car once school lets out. Principle Carter has received thousands of emails including the inevitable hate mail and the beleaguered school superintendent has even sent lawyers to the school to discuss First Amendment law. Naturally, Bueler himself is happy to be the center of so much attention, particularly from the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Dr. Laura Schlessinger though he gushes that his favorite pundit is Michael Savage:
“I’m missing it right now. I’m getting depressed,” Bueler said, breaking into a broad smile. “It’s almost like a drug to me. I have to listen to him.” Bueler does not agree with everything Savage says. He does not condone, for example, Savage calling a gay caller a “sodomite” and telling him to “get AIDS and die”—a statement that caused the cancellation of his short-lived Saturday afternoon talk show on MSNBC. It’s just that for Bueler, a news junkie who reads the online versions of the Washington Times and New York Times every morning as well as several conservative-view websites, Savage is “the voice of reason. He’s my hero.”
Learning that a reporter had met Savage, a former homeopathic medicine and folk-remedy expert whose real name is Michael A. Weiner, Bueler asked excitedly: “Is he the most intelligent man you’ve ever met?”
Therein, I think, lies part of the problem. Bueler is obviously modeling his activism on the style used by Savage which is, in the kindest terms I can think of, “confrontational” at best. Personally, I find it hard to listen to Savage Nation for very long as it’s largely full of venom and hate. The most telling comment I can make is that Michael Savage actually makes me appreciate people like Rush Limbaugh and that’s a feat I once considered impossible. The point being that it’s a style that isn’t very useful for winning new converts to your point of view, but then it was never meant to be. It was meant to generate ratings and that it does.
The problem with this situation is the simple fact that Bueler’s antics and the resulting attention they’ve gained him has disrupted the educational process and put undue burden on the school district. The courts have ruled in the past that a student’s first amendment rights are to be respected as long as they don’t interfere with the day to day school functions. When they do, the schools are allowed to curtail a student’s free speech in the interest of providing an education.
The outside attention by big name conservatives, however, pretty much ensures two things will happen. First, that Bueler will be encouraged to continue in the same vein and secondly, that the school district continues to bend over backwards to accommodate him.
Regardless of whether you agree with Bueler’s views or not, the real tragedy here is the missed opportunity to teach these kids about what having “freedom of speech” is all about as well as what differentiates a reasoned debate from simple jingoism. Instead the lesson being taught, particularly to Bueler, is that if you express yourself in the most inflammatory way possible you’ll win the attention of like-minded celebrities who’ll exert enough pressure to ensure you can get away with the trouble you’re causing.