On Sunday, President Obama, demonstrating once again his populist bona fides, held a fundraiser near San Francisco for his Hollywood friends. The price of admission: $38,500 per plate. (Couldn’t these folks have donated that money to pay down the debt in order to ensure that they turn over their “fair share?” Never mind.)
In attendance was one Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, aka Lady Gaga. And as usual, it wasn’t enough for the queen of bizarroworld to show up – she had to steal the show. Before the event, Lady Gaga reportedly met privately with President Obama to discuss the issue of bullying of gays. Then, during the Q&A portion of the dinner, she stood up and read a fan letter from a gay 14-year-old, Jamey Rodemeyer, who committed suicide, reportedly after being teased about his sexuality. She called on President Obama to make bullying illegal. “I am meeting with our President,” Gaga said on Twitter before the event. “I will not stop fighting. This must end. Our generation has the power to end it. Trend it #MakeALawForJamey.”
Before his suicide, Rodemeyer made a heartbreaking video that you can view here. In it, he talks about how he thought he might bisexual in December of last year; he was sent hate from people who told him he would go to hell. He says things were getting better – when he came out as bisexual, he says, he got lots of support from his friends and family. He says he looks up to Lady Gaga, that she told him he was “born this way.” He attended Lady Gaga’s “Monster Ball” and felt liberated. Just four months later, he was dead by his own hand.
Bullying is a terrible practice. There is no question about it. There is also no question that Rodemeyer suffered from some sort of depression. His parents made the right moves – they had him seeing a social worker and a therapist, apparently. Sometimes that isn’t enough. There are two great tragedies to Rodemeyer’s story, then: the horrific bullying, and the fact that its victim was mentally troubled.
Beyond the tragedy of Rodemeyer’s death, there are at least two specific problems with Lady Gaga’s call to presidential action. First, bullying affects a huge percentage of the population. Very few people have never been bullied at school. It usually has nothing to do with sexuality. Chubby kids get bullied. Short kids get bullied. Religious kids get bullied. Atheist kids get bullied. Singling out bullying of gays as somehow more noteworthy politicizes the issue.
That’s because of problem number two: once you start calling for federal legislation against bullying, you have to define your terms. Lady Gaga calls bullying a “hate crime,” when it is really, as many commentators have pointed out, a thought crime – it is an attempt to divine what is in somebody’s head when they do something awful. Hate crimes legislation is the gateway toward stifling free speech.
That’s eminently clear in the case of bullying. Typically, bullying is words –ugly, nasty, vitriolic words, but only words. Threats of violence are not protected by the First Amendment, but ugly language about the actions of others certainly is. Controlling that language undoubtedly encroaches on free speech. That holds especially true when we are talking about hot button issues like homosexuality. Citing the Bible could get someone suspended or prosecuted. That is an unacceptable outcome.
Leaving aside bullying, the bigger question is why President Obama is now taking legislative advice from Lady Gaga. His party has already openly kowtowed to her on “don’t ask, don’t tell” – in fact, Harry Reid tweeted Lady Gaga after the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” to celebrate. Now she’s getting private meetings with the President of the United States to deal with other issues on her agenda.
Why? For two reasons. Just like the rest of Hollywood, Gaga contributes huge cash to Obama. That means that she, like any other “evil” corporation, has the ear of the most powerful man on earth. Secondly, though, Gaga gets to meet with Obama because she has followers who will do anything for her. Obama knows a constituency when he sees one.
Lady Gaga’s meet-up with President Obama tells us more about President Obama than it does about Gaga. He is in the pocket of liberals in the entertainment industry, and he will stay that way so long as they keep his pockets full. And he will undoubtedly take their advice on anything and everything, including formal legislation that affects us all.