As never before, last fall a free people took on their government, criticized it, organized against it, and prevailed in the voting booths of the nation. You don’t have to like the Tea Party folks to admire their grass-roots ability to stir the nation and change the way politicians think and vote.
That’s what freedom of speech and democracy are all about. We so often forget that freedom, especially the right to criticize those who are in power, is far from common is this world of ours. In Iran Fariborz Rais-Dana, a respected Tehran economist, predicts that his government’s polices would cause widespread poverty; he is arrested shortly thereafter. In China the winner of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize languishes in prison for his human rights activities. In Russia a would-be political opponent of Putin goes back to prison for another long stretch.
The recent tragedy in Tucson triggered so many outbursts against so-called “hate speech”—mostly ascribed to the right—that conservatives responded by claiming that the left, with the help of the media, was attempting to intimidate them into silence. It is true that even before the sounds of the shots had faded, Sara Palin, Rush Limbaugh, and Obama critics everywhere were being blamed for provoking the attack.
It turned out that the assailant who shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and killed six people was a mentally ill kook with no political ties and no political beliefs that anyone could understand. The blame game then subsided into exhortations for more civility in our public discourse. I don’t recall any apologies for the nasty finger pointing.
Now our Republican and Democratic representatives are going to sit together instead of across the aisle from each other during the President’s State of the Union address. Yuck! I hope they don’t hold hands.
The fact of the matter is that American-style democracy is a rough-and-tumble affair and always has been. Jefferson was maligned, Adams was hated, and Andy Jackson’s wife was muddied. On the floor of the Senate, Congressman Preston Brook caned Senator Charles Sumner for his anti-slavery views. Back then senators and representatives frequently wore their pistols while voting.
In these more gentle times the media has portrayed Republicans like Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford,, Dwight Eisenhower, George W. Bush, and Dan Quayle as either stupid or clumsy or both. Only Democrat President Jimmy Carter was pictured as out of it, but then he really was clueless.
The lesson to be taken from all of this is that we should be careful about attempting to dampen down political speech. The whole business about Plain’s charts with crosshairs targeting certain congressional seats is nonsense. Democrats used a similar chart two years before, and even President Obama talked about bringing a gun to a fight with knife-wielding opponents.
Tucson was a tragedy, but attempts to lay it at the door of Palin or the Tea Party or anybody else in politics would be laughable were it not for the fact that it was such a horrifying event. I do think though that we might do well to start laughing at the excesses of politicians. And although the history of elections gives scant hope for change, I would also suggest that we work toward (and pray for) election of more intelligent, classier people to public office. I speak of the lout who called our President a liar during his last State of Union message. How about the cretin who compared opposition to Obamacare to another Holocaust and virtually called his opponents Nazis?
Come on, we can do better.