The Cost of Free Speech

The Cost of Free Speech

Adrienne BoettingerSaturday,16 April 2016

I watch awkward scenes with my hands over my eyes, wincing at the uncomfortableness and wishing it were over. When debates devolve into nonsensical shouty fests with candidates making personal accusations, I turn down the sound or turn off the coverage. I literally cringe at the cringe-worthy moments. I’m a peacemaker — I don’t like it when mom and dad are fighting and I want us all to get along. It is rather unfortunate that I’m also a political junkie because, as someone who pays a lot of attention to politics this never-ending election season, I have only rarely uncurled from the fetal position, unable to look away from all the terribleness everyone is taking out on each other.

For decades, protesters and interrupters have sought out political campaign events and this year is no exception. They knew they would have a large and captive audience, eager reporters ready to catch candidates off their game, plus now there are omnipresent smart phones capturing every exchange and uploading it to the Interwebz to go viral.

The candidates and their surrogates are sitting ducks. With every eye on them, candidates can’t (or at least shouldn’t) lose their cool. Walking the tightrope of not letting every protester get to them, not seeming to ignore valid voices, while not becoming totally derailed or off-message – that is a tall order. No surprise then that old hands and newbies alike are failing. Lately, the would-be First Gentleman is crazy defensive of his own political record with his 10-minute rant at Black Lives Matter protesters when he’s supposed to be campaigning for his wife. Or Hillary herself seeming to get overly rattled being confronted by environmental activists.

And then there’s Trump. He really doesn’t seem to know what to do with protesters at all. To keep up his politically incorrect, “telling it like it is” act, he can’t just ignore someone taking the limelight away from him. But if he keeps encouraging his followers to carry protesters out “on a stretcher”, he gets too many questions about his campaign’s violent tendencies.

We are a nation that has enshrined the rights to free speech, expression, and assembly. We’re supposed to welcome dissent even when it’s our crazy relatives posting on Facebook about conspiracies or flying the flag incorrectly because they’re pissed President Obama still gets to be President. But how do we deal with people protesting so loudly they drown out all the voices around them? When the candidate starts yelling back at the protester to the point where the awkward confrontation averse among us are wincing and looking away, what do we do next?

I was going to relay a few ideas for dealing with protesters, hecklers, etc. You know, something about how it’s best to let them have their voice and then charmingly find a way to get back in control. But instead I think it would be way more fun if we could push a button and a hologram of Winston Churchill would appear and wittily/woozily lay the smack down either on the protester or the candidate (depending on which was being the bigger asshat). Then maybe end with one of those balloon drops or a puppy party just to really close things out on a high note.

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Image Credit: Joe Catron on Flickr

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