Monday, June 15, 2009

The Power of the Word

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

I thought it was one of the Founding Fathers who made that declaration, but it was actually Voltaire. Maybe you knew that.

I’ve been thinking about Free Speech a lot lately. As a writer, of course I have always supported the First Amendment, with the caveat that as Oliver Wendell Holmes ruled: The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.

I grew up chanting sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me. And yet, in the last few weeks, we’ve seen deadly action spring from vicious, hateful language. In my zeal to protect free speech, I am left with the horrific results when the debate ends and the gunfire erupts. James W. von Brunn, who murdered a security guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, had a web site that spewed hatred. He was, in some ways, an equal-opportunity bigot – willing to kill anyone who didn’t fit his vision of a “pure” American, e.g., white.

Eugene Robinson, columnist for The Washington Post, certainly a free speech supporter, raised a valid question. When does “blast-furnace rhetoric,” which though ugly is legal, cross the line because it incites others to violence? You can make the argument that neither the far right nor the far left is responsible for the nutjob who moves from advocating to shooting bullets. But Robinson suggests that many talking heads on all-news cable shows are riling up some dangerous people when they call President Obama a "socialist," label Sonia Sotomayor a "racist Latina," and claim that Democrats want to "take away your guns.”

As with all of our guaranteed freedoms, they depend on people never abusing them. Each of us has the right to her own opinion. We can and should make cogent arguments to defend our positions, and work within the political system to effect change. BUT we also need to avoid demonizing the opposition – and we must vote with the remote and turn off the television when a talking head tries to spike his ratings with rants designed to appeal to the fears and prejudices of the audience.

These are serious times that demand serious discussion. There’s no room at the table – or on television or radio – for those who aren’t willing to talk about issues without resorting to scare tactics or hyperbole.

I’m a realist. I know there are crazy people out there. But the media must stop providing these nutjobs with the “ammunition” that they then use to justify their violent actions.

Evelyn David


  1. Really good post, ED.

    Even in local, small political and social debate (issues like my local library expansion referendum, for example), I've grown very tired of holding myself to the rule of being civil, firm but not rude, etc. in debate with someone who simply shouts at me in public, calls me an "Obamanista" to communicate in right-wing code that they hold me and my ideas in blind contempt, and will even publish my home address on a blog along with my publicly available track record of donations to various candidates for election just to tell the other right-wing wing-nuts that I'm someone to dismiss and even hate. And, hey, by tossing in that home address, they even manage a little bit of a threat and some incitement to harm or bother me and my family, right? Bonus points!

    When do we who conduct ourselves in a reasonable and sane fashion finally say, enough with the stupid and wasteful debate? If my only choice to speak my views is going to be by sitting across the table with some hateful moron to endure their vitriol then I'll just pass. When the other side of the issue puts someone out there (AND SURELY SUCH PEOPLE EXIST and they are just as drowned out and excluded as we are!) that can fairly and respectfully debate and discuss, I'll participate and/or watch and listen.

    Until then, Crazy People, I'm done with you and your nonsense.

  2. As usual, there are two side to every thing, even this post and the comment.

    As you may have guessed, I'm rather middle-of-the road politically. But I've seen and heard terrible things from both sides--the far left and the far right. Most of the time I don't even state my feelings because people get so emotional.

    I hate the personal attacks on the president--who I pray for every day even though I did not vote for him--and why on earth would anyone want to be president anyway? This is a scary world we live in.

    Sometimes I don't think the president realizes that many of the leaders of other countries are not reasonable men like he is.

    But I also hate the personal attacks on anyone, no matter how they might vote, believe, etc.

    Yes, there are way too many nut cases out there today, but I'm afraid they are on TV as well as radio, on the right and on the left. For some reason it seems okay to be mean and vicious these days.

    And that's all I'm going to say on the subject.


  3. Thanks Vicky and Marilyn. I think we all agree that we need more civil discourse. I don't expect to have universal agreement on issues - that wouldn't be healthy - but commentators in the media, on both sides of the fence, need to tone down their rhetoric and dial up the thoughtfulness of their arguments.


  4. And it would be so helpful if for all sides of an issue we could have the publicized discussions between people from those sides that are smart and civil and can articulate real ideas and thoughts, not just scream and slap at one another in these bad theater pieces of politics. And, again, I think every side has people of reason and sanity and decency in the mix, just like it's true every side has its nut jobs! It's too bad our media and most of the audience for it are too shallow to foster that kind of valuable debate.

  5. I totally agree, so many TV and radio personalities, supposed to be political pundits, need to have their mouths washed out with soap and put in the corner.


  6. I believe, that no matter what, we ALL have a Constitutional right to our Freedom of Speech. No one has a right to take that away from us, nor any of our other rights, according to the United States Constitution.

    Furthermore, when the so-called "right-wing wing-nuts" merely ask that the President produce proof that he is a natural-born citizen--which, by the way, is a REQUIREMENT of the U. S. Constitution and only means that he would have to show his full-size, legal birth certificate (nothing that you or I aren't asked for when we go in to the military or if we're in school, or a myriad of other things)--doesn't ANYONE ever wonder why his "followers" go so ballistic?

    I've wondered that myself. If we're supposed to believe in Obama, then WHY NOT encourage him to do the right thing? I wonder WHY he is spending MILLIONS of dollars by hiring THREE TEAMS OF HIGH-PAID LAWYERS to get out of showing the PROOF of his natural-born citizenship, instead of just paying the ten bucks to have a duplicate birth certificate presented as proof! WHAT is he HIDING? The only logical explanation is that he does NOT have a valid birth certificate to submit, and therefore, he IS NOT a natural-born citizen.

    Any of us, as U. S. citizens, have the right to question whether Obama is eligible to BE the president, especially when such serious questions are left unanswered. Obama PROMISED that his would be an Administration of Transparency.

    Well, so far his Administration has been about as transparent as mud. That doesn't sound like "change" to me.

    Cynde's Got The Write Stuff

  7. The birth certificate was produced by the Obama campaign nearly a year ago and has been examined and verifed as authentic, raised seals and all, by many different people and organizations over and over since then. For one example, see the link below for's verification statement.

    This goofiness around the Obama birth certificate is as silly as the idea that because John McCain was born in the Panama Canal he wasn't of proper citizenship to serve as a US president. But, both good men have at least one American citizen for a parent. Which makes each man a citizen by law, born on foreign land or not—remember that the reason someone like Madeleine Albright or Arnold Schwarzenegger cannot serve as a US president is that they did NOT have American citizens for parents AND were born on non-US soil (though Albright’s family later became US citizens). In McCain's case he was born on a US Navy base in the canal zone, which is a US controlled territory and made him "American born" despite geography. Obama was born in Hawaii, which is how he met the requirement. Obama was born in our 50th state, period, which means that even if his mom hadn’t been a US citizen he’d be one.

    The truth isn't hard to find provided that the truth is what you really want to find. I have a relative who is the kind of person who'd rather you told them a lie they like than a truth they don't. That attitude doesn't change the lies or the truths. It just changes how he feels about it.