We throw around phrases like “freedom of speech” an awful lot. Some of us do it smugly, secure in the knowledge that however offensive our comments might be, they are protected by that glorious first-in-line amendment (unless, of course, you’re spouting obscenities or creating a clear and present danger...like Snookie, who creates a clear and present danger that I am going to stick knives in my ears whenever I hear her voice.)
But when push comes to shove (literally, at rallies for example) we have a strange way of showing how much we care about opposing views.
Whenever Ann Coulter appears at college campuses, there is invariably that crazed trust funder who threatens to hit her in the face with a pie. I don’t agree with Anne on everything, but arrogant as she can be, she has the ability to string together some coherent sentences with intellectual heft. That’s not the case with many of her critics, who call her Nazi, horse face, and worse (all covered by the First Amendment, by the way.)
Now comes word that the crazies have essentially forced Eric Cantor to abandon his trip to the Wharton School, where he was going to give a speech about the disparities between rich and poor. Personally, I would have stood my ground, stuck my congressional finger in the eyes of people who carry signs written in crayon, and shown up at Penn.
But I don’t blame him for being afraid for his safety, given recent incidents of violence caused-and let’s get this straight-not by the fascist police in New York but by over-excitable, over-caffeinated and over-indulged protestors.
Our own home grown brand of dissidents seem a bit calmer than their Big Apple brethren. But Cantor must have sensed that his message was going to be lost in the maelstrom and the chaos, people who don’t want reasoned debate but, rather, revolution.
When you chase away the people who can effect change in the misguided sense that only your opinion counts, well, you’ll be speaking in an echo chamber.
And making a mockery of true, robust debate.
Of course, some people like our friends over at Clout think Cantor’s a hypocrite for not showing up. But when the dress code at your speech includes a flack jacket, I can understand sending your regrets.