Opinion | Scott M. Estill: ‘Let’s go Brandon’ and freedom of speech
Challenges, Choices, Changes
I like to start my day checking out the latest edition of the Summit Daily News, and I usually find that my attention quickly turns to the letters to the editor. While most of the recent letters have offered opinions on the upcoming school board election, there were two letters that caught my attention. Both had to do with a recent advertisement run by The Mint Restaurant in Silverthorne in which the restaurant offered a 20.21% discount to any patrons who mentioned “Let’s Go Brandon” to their servers. I had seen these advertisements, as well, but had no clue who Brandon was or why this should qualify me for a discount.
It didn’t take long for Google, the master of information, to educate me that Brandon is NASCAR driver Brandon Brown. Brown won a major race earlier this month, and while being interviewed on national television, fans chanted a loud chorus of “F— Joe Biden” in the background. The reporter attempted to override the chant with the claim that the crowd was actually screaming, “Let’s Go Brandon.” Within hours, the meme factories began to churn out social media posts while the T-shirt and hat manufacturers started the factory production lines. You can even buy Christmas-themed ugly sweaters and hoodies in seven assorted color options. To top it off, a Republican congressperson (Jeff Duncan of South Carolina) was displaying the message on his face mask during recent congressional sessions.
Now fully educated on the topic, I revisited the advertisement. Could this ad be considered in any way offensive and divisive? Absolutely. I think most of us would agree that anytime an F-bomb is lobbed at any person (even through a code word) there is a great likelihood that some or most of any given population will take offense. When this speech is directed toward a sitting U.S. president of either party, it is likely to offend a decent chunk of the population.
Even though some readers may find this advertisement offensive in some respects, it is clearly protected speech under the First Amendment. Fifty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed an F-bomb to be addressed toward the Vietnam War draft as protected speech, reminding us that “while the particular four-letter word being litigated here is perhaps more distasteful than most others of its genre, it is nevertheless often true that one man’s vulgarity is another’s lyric.”
However, simply because one can do something does not mean in any way that one should do something. This would seem to be the case in running this promotion in Summit County, which favored President Biden by a 68.4% to 28.8% advantage over his nearest competitor in the 2020 election. The results in other races in the same election similarly favored the Democratic Party.
I reached out to The Mint to see what effect, if any, the ad had on its business. I must confess that even though I have owned and operated several businesses over the course of my professional life, I have never understood marketing and what makes a promotion successful or not. Would potential patrons be turned off by the ad and thus seek out other restaurants to spend their dining dollars?
Apparently, this promotion has been very well-received, despite a few angry phone calls and the previously mentioned letters to the editor. According to The Mint, around 20% of the diners on a recent evening were there specifically because of the advertisement. Many found the ad amusing and funny.
No doubt there is a difference of opinion on what messages should be promoted in a local advertisement. Underlying these differences demonstrates the power, beauty and sustainability of the American system. The Mint (and Summit Daily News) has a First Amendment right to advertise in this manner. The readers exercised their First Amendment right in getting their views published in the same newspaper (again exercising its First Amendment right to a freedom of the press).
Yet in America today, the exercising of constitutional rights can often take a back seat to the trail of money. And in this way, each of us can exercise our own rights with our wallets. Like the message, loathe it or really just don’t care, you get to make this call every time you pull out your debit or credit card. And isn’t this freedom of choice what’s at the heart of many pressing issues today? You can always stay away. Or if you like The Mint yet hate this ad, you can always go in, voice your displeasure and tell them you love Biden. I bet they’d give you 20.21% off your meal.
Scott M. Estill’s column “Challenges, Choices, Changes” publishes biweekly on Thursdays in the Summit Daily News. Estill is an attorney, author and public speaker who lives in Dillon when not traveling or attending to legal matters in Denver. Contact him at email@example.com.
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