Of Pigs and Congressmen
Another Congressman, Duncan Hunter [R, CA] objected to the painting as offensive to his law and order sensibilities, and took it down. Clay objected to Hunter's objections, and has spent the ensuing time prattling on about the artist's First Amendment, and is claiming to seek theft charges against Hunter. The painting, not stolen but merely removed from display, is once again hanging outside Clay's office.
First, the Congressional Art Contest is supposed to be an annual affair for budding school-age artists to draw purple mountains majesty and amber waves of grain; the rules specifically prohibit "sensational" or "current events" depictions. It is natural for me, as a libertarian, to be on board with the anti-police-state theme of the amateurish artwork, even if the specific event it alludes to is unworthy of that criticism. But let's be realistic: under the rules of the contest that this painting won, it should never have been in the contest in the first place.
Second, the painting does not now belong to Pulphus; it belongs either to Congress or to Congressman Lacy Clay — I do not know, nor do I care, nor does it matter. The First Amendment issue, to the degree it exists at all, is no longer Pulphus's, but the artwork's owner's. It is not Pulphus who had his free expression taken down; it was either Congress's or Clay's expression that was removed. Congress is the government; Clay — in his capacity as a Congressman — is an agent of the government.
But the First Amendment does not protect the government's expression … or in this case re-expression; it only protects the expression of the individual citizen. The First Amendment cannot protect artwork that Congress, as an institution, displays, nor artwork a specific Congressman shows. The First Amendment became irrelevant the moment the artwork won the Congressional Art Contest, and Lacy Clay needs to review the nature and purpose of the Constitution he is sworn to uphold.
Clay attempting to level charges of theft against Hunter also displays Clay's complete unfamiliarity with law and the definition of theft. If Clay had tied his pig to a lamppost on a public sidewalk, and the pig was removed by a shopkeeper for being in the wrong place and driving away business, leaving behind a note saying "You can retrieve your pig at …" some address, that is not theft; there is no intent on keeping the property.
Instead, if the artwork was controlled by Congress and was removed by a single Congressman, then it likely violates one or more Rules of Order created by the House of Representatives to scold its members who misbehave. If the artwork was under the specific control of Clay, then Hunter's removal of it likely violates the same Rules of Order. Criminal charges are little more than another of Clay's self-important, "Dig me! I'm a Congressman!" narcissisms that those of us who live near his district have grown exceedingly weary of hearing about. Clay needs to seek sanction against Hunter through the parliamentary rules of his chamber.
And sanction is warranted. Hunter is behaving as the very model of tightass conservative that idiot liberals love to despise — and for good reason. Whether you like the thought of cops being depicted as pigs, it is, in our police-state nation, a common assessment. They are used as the point-man for every government solution to problems that government was never given permission to solve. The results have been nothing but predictable, even for those circumstances where cops do have a legitimate role. And the problems remain unsolved in any event.
Fewer laws defining criminal behavior, for starters.
Liberty is frequently stupid and self-indulgent, rather like the actions of both Congressmen in this episode. However, under our Constitutional Republic Congressmen aren't given liberty; citizens are.