FREE SPEECH IN AMERICA

The excellent THEODORE ROOSEVELT AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY, the Republican candidate for Vice-President of the Republican Party in 1900 tells, 

…the monotony usually attendant upon such a campaign of political speaking was diversified in vivid fashion by occasional hostile audiences. One or two of the meetings ended in riots. One meeting was finally broken up by a mob; everybody fought so speaking had to stop. Soon after this we reached a town where we were told there might be trouble. Here the local committee included an old and valued friend, a “two-gun” man of repute, who was not in the least quarrelsome, but who always kept his word. We marched around to the local opera-house, which was packed with a mass of men, many of them rather rough-looking. My friend the two-gun man sat immediately behind me, fixing his gaze with instant intentness on any section of the house from which there came so much as a whisper. The audience listened to me with rapt attention. At the end, with a pride in my rhetorical powers which proceeded from a misunderstanding of the situation, I remarked to the chairman: “I held that audience well; there wasn’t an interruption.”

To which the chairman replied: “Interruption? Well, I guess not. Seth had sent around word that if any son of a gun peeped he’d kill him!”

Chapter 4, p. 129-130; New York, DA CAPO, 1985. 

FREE SPEECH

Free Speech is not an issue in the United States. Anyone can say anything about anyone at any time, and not be arrested.

The problem is talking so other Americans can or must listen. There are forums where people go and listen: religious services, sporting and entertainment events, institutions of government (Remember the “You lie.” interruption of an Obama State of the Union Address), and lectures with limited or specific subjects in science, educations, art and culture. This last group usually allows interruptions, politely, by raising hands and allowing questions and comments.

Free speech in open, general forums does not mean that people are compelled to listen. Free Speech does not mean that people cannot interrupt, shout objections or make comments. Indeed, free speech by a speaker invites other Americans who want to add or exercise their free speech rights in the same forum, at the same time. Those added speakers may seem rude, but that is the world Americans live in. Actually, it has always been the world Americans have lived in.

Consider Abraham Lincoln. It was said he would hook an audience and everyone would listen. Indeed, with one speech, given in New York City at Cooper Union speech, the westerner came to the notice of easterners. Lincoln became the Republican nominee for president in 1860. The Cooper Union speech not only had a profound effect on its audience, but also the words, the writing and the substantive captures readers today. Therein one may say Lincoln was eloquent.

Eloquence is the hallmark, the end game, what is required. Imagine how an abolitionist speaker gave speeches before the Civil War to hostile, interrupting, slave-tolerating audiences? The best of those speakers was Wendell Phillips of Boston. Besides being anti-slavery he had other causes: woman’s rights, labor rights, a progressive tax system. There was much for the Establishment and its audiences to hate or dislike.

How eloquent was Wendell Phillips? Ralph Waldo Emerson described his speech: The whole air was full of splendors. This type is speaker either presents such compelling content (like Lincoln) so the audience listens, or the flowing words are so elevated and unique that people want to hear how the language can be used to its best effect. It appears that Phillips had both abilities. He was a Knight Errant of Unfriended Truth. A Southern newspaper called Phillip’s speaking, an infernal machine set to music. And there was this report:  At the end of a Phillips speech, a member of the audience stood and applauded while yelling, “You God-damned-son-of-a-bitch!”  

And how did Phillips interact with his audience: “There was absolutely nothing of bull-dog combativeness; but a careless buoyant, almost patrician air, as if nothing in the way of mob-violence were with considering, and all the threats of opponents were simply beneath contempt. He seemed like some English Jacobite nobleman on the scaffold, carelessly taking snuff, and kissing his hand to the crowd, before laying his head upon the block.”

Today, speakers want respect, like Rodney Dangerfield. But every human being must earn respect. Speakers are dilettantes who want every person to hear every word uttered in monotone voices: Give the same speech at Texas A & M that will be given at the University of California at Berkeley later? Is there any eloquence? Some of those speakers have Ivy-League educations, like Abraham Lincoln, right? That’s how they graduated – having little education, faking knowledge and brain activity by repeating errant and sundry thoughts previously published on TV – they’ve gone through four years of higher learning where many survived by grade inflation: No one at this Ivy League deserves a C. (Are some people truly worried about students paying into get into college?) These speakers do no know excellence in communication. Having rudimentary logic, they can organize texts and insert cliches popular for limited audiences with no development but scattered among wine-and-cheese-party analyses: That’s real sophistication. None are original, and few, if any, know how to write. Many are authors of ordinary, mundane volumes with no joie de vive. In the end none can offer more than warmed-over phrases, bathroom sponsored suggestions and off-the-cuff offerings to solve any issue. Finally, in the world of writing, they are persons of adjectives and adverbs.

On the lecture and specking circuits these speakers are easy targets who become flustered with the first interruption and off-comment. (That isn’t in my speech, but it logically follows.) Their reactions reveal a complete misunderstanding of a speaker’s status – part entertainer. They lack confidence, have poor speaking ability (unlike Wendell Phillips), are completely unable to defend points of view so the speaker advances his argument while answering comments, generally lack ego and at heart are general misanthropes unable to communicate with the entire human race. 

A final analysis proves these speakers are not Rodney Dangerfield. They are not ready for prime time.

[Quotes and some facts above were taken from a sketch of Wendell Phillips by Norman Thomas,

GREAT DISSENTERS, New York, Norton, 1961.]

NO FREE SPEECH

The big issue coming to people’s attention is there is no free speech at Berkeley, the home of the Free Speech Movement. Everyone who is familiar with Berkeley, knows there has been no Free Speech on campus for 50 years. Berkeley was not the first American campus to contest Free Speech rights of students in October 1964. In his book Campus Wars, Kenneth Heinemann, recounts events leading to free speech on a mid-west campus a year before Berkeley started up.

Speech [is[ essential to maintaining a healthy “civil society.” Without open access to information…how could a citizen begin to comprehend “the advancement of truth, science, mortality and arts in general. Even more important …the ready communication of thoughts between subjects, and its consequential promotion of union among them was the means by which oppressive offices are shamed or intimidated into more honorable and just models of conducting affairs… T.H. Breen, American Insurgents and American Patriots, Hill and Wang, NY, 2010, p. 235.

Admittedly, the passage above refers to “freedom of the press,” but speech is just as appurtenant. It is doubly so because the protesters at Berkeley, February 2017, had a course open to them. Write and criticize. Does the speaker use oratory tricks and relay no substance? Not in writing. It is said Hitler was an excellent orator, but the substance of his speeches was trash. His writing was pitiful.

No one will ever know what the Berkeley speaker would have said, and there is no criticism of it. No one would ever know what the speaker would have communicated. He apparently is unable to write. And generally, political writing by the Left and by the Right is ordinary or extremely mediocre. Most of the writers believe they only have to hook themselves up to a dictaphone and talk an essay onto a page. It’s about as unique and insightful as a Bill O’Reilly history – thousands of those volumes make their way to paper recyclers primarily because political writers, Left and Right, are eager to get to emotional issues: crying babies, crying mothers, crying cops. They never understand and tell substance.

Late news reports state that an outside group, wearing black – perhaps pajamas like the Viet Cong – came on campus and did all the damage. They did wear masks like ninjas. (There have been too many Ninja Turtle movies.) Given the totality of the circumstances it may be Berkeley has it right. There is no Free Speech on campus because no one, Left or Right, has anything noteworthy to say. SO SHUT UP!