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November 10, 2008

Something That Must Be Said

Now there is an attempt – a dishonest one, in my opinion – to blame Sarah Palin for death threats against Barack Obama. Some are resurrecting discredited claims of “a near lynch mob atmosphere at her rallies, with supporters yelling ‘terrorist’ and ‘kill him’” as examples of her misdeeds – despite the fact that the original source about the connection between Palin and the threats seems to go nowhere near that conclusion and makes a connection that seems rather tenuous.

Lest you think this sort of report and connection is mere coincidence, let me offer a parallel – the Oklahoma City Bombing of 1995. That terrible act of violence was used and abused by liberals in the media and in public office in an attempt to quash conservative rhetoric that they claimed – quite incorrectly – was somehow responsible for that reprehensible act of terrorism. No less than Bill Clinton attempted to tag radio talkers like Rush Limbaugh and the newly elected GOP majority in Congress with responsibility. And I’d argue that we are seeing the same sort of effort today, in an attempt to delegitimize and suppress conservative criticism and dissent in the wake of Obama’s electoral victory and in advance of his assuming office. Criticism, we will likely hear, endangers the life of the nation’s first black President and must be delegitimized and eliminated. Indeed, the new refrain of the Left will be not that “dissent is the highest form of patriotism,” but that “dissent is incitement to murder.”

So let me speak clearly today, before this effort is in full swing. While I did not vote Barack Obama, I hope he has a successful presidency that leaves this country a better place than when his term begins. I wish him long life, and pray that he will see his two beautiful daughters marry and give him many grandchildren – and that he sees great-grandchildren and perhaps even the generation or two beyond. I hope that he gets to grow old with his wife Michelle, who he obviously loves. No person who loves this country should wish for anything less.

However, none of those wishes ought to supersede a fervent commitment to the First Amendment. The life of Barack Obama, or any president, is not more important than the right of Americans to engage in political speech free from government restraint. And if I as an individual am given a choice between that inalienable right and the life of any chief executive, I regret to say that the elected official loses every single time. Men and women have died for over two centuries to protect the liberties contained in the Constitution at the direction of many different presidents – as commander-in-chief, the holder of the presidency must accept that there is some element of risk to be taken in order to uphold his (or, one day, her) solemn oath to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States” – risk that comes from some individual drawing an illegitimate conclusion from the constitutionally protected political speech of Americans who disagree with his policy.

Should Americans speak in a manner that is responsible and temperate? Yes, they should. Should due consideration be given to the reasonably foreseeable results of one’s words? Again, the answer is yes. But to assign culpability to the speakers of legitimate political criticism (even if their rhetoric might be judged to be over-heated by some) for the actions of violent extremists is not merely an attack upon one’s opponents with illegitimate charges, it is no less than an assault upon the First Amendment itself and the bedrock principle it contains that every citizen has the right to speak out on matters of public concern. And as our nation has seen more than once, our system of government can survive the death of a president – what it cannot survive is the actual negation of an essential liberty of the citizenry in order to protect a president from the hypothetical violence of the extreme and the unstable.

And the key, of course, is that threats are never acceptable. I’ve stated that frequently here, even as I’ve defended the right of some truly awful human beings to engage in contemptible speech. But our founders intended that political speech be robust, boisterous and loud – one need only consider the elections of 1796 and 1800 (between such revered men as Jefferson and Adams) to recognize that attempts to silence even the most extreme political speech is not just dangerous – it is un-American and contrary to the intent of those who gave life and breath to the American experiment of liberty.





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Comments on Something That Must Be Said

Well, I went to a couple of McCain rallies here in VA, as an undecided leaning toward Obama. I must say that even in McCain rallies, most of the reasons people gave (while waiting for the candidate) not to vote for Obama bordered from the uninformed to the scary.

Some people, continued to claim that he was a Muslim and was hiding it because once assuming office he would seek to destroy America. Others, either nodded or added, that he was a socialist who "palled around with terrorists." Still others argued that they were afraid of the future of this country of Sen. Obama were elected.

In fact, only a few people spoke with respectful disagreement with the majority, by stating that both Sen. Obama and Sen. McCain were good men who espoused different visions for the country.

I heard many of Palin's accusations being bandied about as if they were true, and I didn't like it. I mean, I respect senator McCain and have for a very long time, but the tenor of his supporters frankly left me disappointed.

I attended one Obama rally after that, and the mood there was far more positive. I did hear some loons talking about being scared if Sen. McCain was elected. Most just talked about how Sen. Obama was a transcendental figure in US politics and would allow us to move beyond the partisanship of the last few years. In short, in Obama rally people focused on the positive reasons for voting for the candidate, while in the McCain rallies I attended people focused almost exclusively on fear of that one.

Sen. McCain, I think admirably sought to tamp down and control his supporters, but Gov. Palin rather than correcting them incited them with rhetoric designed to make them scared of Sen. Obama.

When she first came unto the scene, I thought she was a good pick, but as time went on, she reminded me too much of the divisive politics we were trying to move away from. She ended up becoming part of the reason, though not the only one, why I ended up voting Democrat, despite having voted for G.W. Bush in 2000. I didn't vote in 2004, but would probably have voted for Sen. Kerry.

With regard to your argument that any opposition to Sen. Obama is dangerous and could threaten his life. You are essentially doing what you are criticizing the Dems for supposedly doing. You say they see all criticism of the president elect as dangerous because it could threaten his life (a generalization by the Dems if it were true) and then you generalize about all democrats and say they are trying to kill free speech and any valid criticism of the President elect.

|| Posted by Lola, November 11, 2008 03:47 PM ||

Actually, Lola, you are partially correct -- but I am not attributing this attitude to "all Democrats". Instead, I am speculating based upon prior history, and drawing a conclusion. After all, we've seen the "criticism of Obama is racist" argument made time and again, and the new attempt to argue that fierce criticism of Obama provoked death threats is likely to lead to the new meme that I suggested -- "dissent is incitement to murder."

From there, I argued that it is irrelevant whether such an argument is correct or not -- if the use of our First Amendment rights jeopardizes the president (and I mean any president, not just Obama), then that is simply a risk that he (or she) assumes upon making a declaration of candidacy and eventually taking the oath of office. It is clear from your comment that you did not understand my argument.

|| Posted by Rhymes With Right, November 11, 2008 06:17 PM ||
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