"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

Can free speech be too free?

Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

While standing in the checkout line the other day at my favorite warehouse store, a middle-aged couple pushed a partially-filled shopping cart up behind me. While both were well-dressed, his demeanor told me he was probably retired military. Because of a large VA hospital in our little burg, we’ve a large retired military presence. Usually makes for good neighbors.

Noting my nearly-filled shopping cart, he said innocently “Looks like you’re stocking up.”

I smiled and said “You bet. With gas at $4 a gallon, I’m making fewer trips to shop so I try to fill the list each time.”

“There’s only one reason for gas prices to be what they are,” he said with a suddenly edgy tone. Before I could ask what that was, he continued, “That damned Muslim Obama and his Muslim friends are trying to take away all our money.”

Silence. Somewhat awkward silence. But, always one with a snappy, on-point response to such statements, my retort was – – – “Oh?”

Upon recovery I asked sort of jokingly – deliberately ignoring the obvious – “If you were running for president in a tight, national election, and could control the price of gas, wouldn’t you cut it to someplace around $1.25?”

“He’s not going to cut anything,” the man said. “He and his Muslim friends won’t be happy until we’re broke and living under Sharia law.”

Regaining my composure a bit, I asked “You really think the President controls the price of gas?”

“You bet,” he replied. “And he won’t be happy until the Muslims control everything American.”

“Are there any facts to the contrary that would make you change your mind,” I asked.

“None” was the curt, one word answer.

My turn with the cashier came at that point and we parted. Quickly.

What do you say during such an encounter? What do you think when someone says obviously crazy things like that? What do you say?

While that was the most direct, strident, hate-filled encounter with such anger and ignorance for me recently, it certainly isn’t the only one. It’s in my incoming email file every 24 hours. It’s in “news” accounts each day. It’s the picture of a guy at a Romney rally wearing the words “Put white back in the White House” on his shirt. It’s political campaigners telling their audience we need to “send Obama home to Kenya.” It’s pictures of Americans wearing pistols and waving heavier weapons at otherwise peaceful events. It’s pictures of the President morphed with pictures of Hitler. It’s hate on bumper stickers like one with a rebel flag in our burg saying “I’m paying a bounty for Obama’s hide.” And more. Much, much more.

I’ve been accused by more than one acquaintance lately of being somewhat touchy when it comes to criticizing matters of hate or race when I see public instances such as hate speech, valueless stories of racial issues in the media, bombast from the hate-talkers and just plain blatant racism in mass media or public discourse.

The accusation may – or may not – be warranted. My question in response is “Why aren’t more people angry as Hell and pointing out the same things?”
We didn’t get into this national environment of hate all at once. It’s been building for decades. A little step here. A little give there. Overlooking what should have been red flags about such issues when they came up. Little by little, well-paid, hate-talkers on radio have pushed their dirty envelopes until there’s not much you can’t find on the airwaves today. Strident hate, homophobic slurs, race-baiting, out-and-out lies about nearly any subject – especially the President. Crackpot birtherism insanity. Social, medical and personal issues being passed off as subjects of “political import.” Lies being pedaled as truth when the truth has been proven repeatedly. Political prostitutes being elected to office with open wallets of unhinged billionaires seeking to build a theocracy they can control.

You’re damned right I’m touchy. I’m fed up with it and sick at heart about what’s happening to our nation. When otherwise thinking, middle-aged people can accost me in a store checkout line with the insanity I experienced this week, I’m more than touchy – I’m damned mad!

Free speech. I know. I know! It’s been an issue I’ve defended all my adult life – up to and including jail in the District of Columbia. It’s an issue my heart is fully into. But……………….

We’ve allowed the guaranteed right of freedom of speech to be unfettered by a matching obligation of informed speech. In defense of free speech, we’ve allowed the assurance of it to overwhelm any requirement for honest speech. Factual speech. We’ve even generously rewarded those who pervert it and who foist their perversions on the rest of us.

Do I know how to fix it? No. Not really. But this perpetuation of mental sickness under the guise of a constitutional right is gutting our sensibilities and creating alternate realities for millions of Americans. My daily contact with the I-net is the living proof of that. That and a shopping trip.

Without some sort of concerted national effort addressing this problem, our other freedoms are being endangered. We should all be more touchy. More of us should be damned mad.

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