The number one political topic for this summer has been Healthcare Reform. With tens of millions of Americans uninsured it seems only logical that the Government should step in and make sure those Americans do in fact receive healthcare. Yet, with the country running such a deficit and Government spending at the highest rate in history, certainly the argument can be made that universal healthcare cannot be afforded and that healthcare should be left up to private citizens.
There is obviously merit in both sides of the argument. If there wasn’t merit in both sides, there would not be any argument. But unfortunately instead of having a healthy dialogue and constructive conversation as to these concerns, rather this summer has brought chaotic and boisterous Town Hall meetings where nothing is gained and the only thing that is lost is the truth.
As First Amendment advocates this is a very touchy subject for us. We certainly believe in the right of people to voice their concerns to their Elected Governmental Officials. We certainly believe in the right of people to protest against policies they believe to be unfair or counter to their values. Also, we would find it repugnant to have a society where those Governmental Officials were shielded from opposing views and voices. In fact, during the past Bush Administration we commented on how George W. Bush only allowed those with similar views to attend his rallies and his speeches. Thereby, giving the impression that there was no decent when decent was forced by local police, the Republican Party, and the Secret Service to be miles away.
On the other hand, we see a great problem with what has occurred this summer. When protesters become unruly, overly loud and shout down the speakers that there are supposed to be listening to, is it First Amendment Freedom or is it anarchy? When it is planned to disrupt Town Hall meetings so that no information can be imparted for those that truly want to learn is it speech and freedom or is it mob rule?
Unfortunately, most of the time the answers to those questions depends on which side of the fence you are sitting. For those who were opposed to the Vietnam War that type of boorish behavior was an exercise of freedom of speech and a valuable tool to get us out of an unjust war. For those who were opposed to the President’s policy on healthcare, this summer of discontent with the shout down at the public forum are no less an example of freedom of expression then the behaviors during the Vietnam War.
Although we find the tactics being used by the so called grass roots conservative uprising over the healthcare debate to be over the top, the remedy of silencing them or not allowing them to speak is too offensive to the freedom of speech that we hold near and dear to us. Although the tactics that these people have been using, shouting down the speakers, makes a mockery of the use of freedom of speech, again prohibiting that speech to take place would make a mockery of the First Amendment. No, there is no clear easy answer to these questions. Do we sacrifice First Amendment freedom in the name of healthy debate or do we sacrifice healthy debate in the name of First Amendment freedom?
What is the most troubling however is that the tactics being used by the conservative right in disturbing these Town Hall meetings is more reminiscent of a third world country or the brown shirts of Mussolini and the Nazi party of Adolph Hi`tler. Shout down those that disagree with you, disrupt civil discourse and bully your opinions upon others. In the name of Democracy and in the name of Freedom of Speech these people with their tactics are destroying the same. Democracy does not just work when people have the freedom to speak, but rather it works when everyone has the freedom to be able to listen. If everyone speaks at one time nothing can be heard. Although we are loathed to request government sanction to prohibit these types of outbursts we can only hope that cooler minds will prevail and a true discourse on the issues will be allowed, one where all sides of the issues are presented and one in which all sides of the issues can be heard.