Sunday, April 19, 2009

Bill Clinton on Freedom of Speech

"In this country we cherish and guard the right of free speech. We know we love it when we put up with people saying things we absolutely deplore. And we must always be willing to defend their right to say things we deplore to the ultimate degree. But we hear so many loud and angry voices in America today whose sole goal seems to be to try to keep some people as paranoid as possible and the rest of us all torn up and upset with each other. They spread hate. They leave the impression that, by their very words, that violence is acceptable. You ought to see—I'm sure you are now seeing the reports of some things that are regularly said over the airwaves in America today.

Well, people like that who want to share our freedoms must know that their bitter words can have consequences and that freedom has endured in this country for more than two centuries because it was coupled with an enormous sense of responsibility on the part of the American people.

If we are to have freedom to speak, freedom to assemble, and, yes, the freedom to bear arms, we must have responsibility as well. And to those of us who do not agree with the purveyors of hatred and division, with the promoters of paranoia, I remind you that we have freedom of speech, too. And we have responsibilities, too. And some of us have not discharged our responsibilities. It is time we all stood up and spoke against that kind of reckless speech and behavior.

If they insist on being irresponsible with our common liberties, then we must be all the more responsible with our liberties. When they talk of hatred, we must stand against them. When they talk of violence, we must stand against them. When they say things that are irresponsible, that may have egregious consequences, we must call them on it. The exercise of their freedom of speech makes our silence all the more unforgivable. So exercise yours, my fellow Americans. Our country, our future, our way of life is at stake. I never want to look into the faces of another set of family members like I saw yesterday, and you can help to stop it.

Our democracy has endured a lot over these last 200 years, and we are strong enough today to sort out and work through all these angry voices."


  1. Nice post. I agree completely with the President.

    Here's an example of "loud and angry" speech I abhor. Janeane Garofalo claimed that the people who attended "Tea Party" protests were "just a bunch of racists." On the Keith Olbermann show, she said, "This is racism straight-up" and "It's not about bashing Democrats...This is about hating a black man in the white house."

    Do I defend her right to say those horrid things, as President Clinton requests? Yep. But I don't like it, and I would argue she is engaging in just the kind of speech Clinton criticizes.

    President Clinton complains of "purveyors or hatred and division." That is absolutely what Garofalo is purveying. Don't take fiscal conservatives seriously; they are just racists, she says. If that isn't purveying hatred and division, I don't know what is.

    She had an opportunity to take on the protestors on the issues. Why is so much government spending necessary right now? There's a compelling Keynesian argument to be made. She could have pointed out that the national debt grew tremendously under Republican Presidents, and she would have been absolutely correct.

    But she choose instead to paint a protest CLEARLY designed around fiscal matters as racially motivated. President Clinton was right to point out that freedom of speech carries a corresponding responsiblity to use it wisely.

    Garofalo used her freedom of speech in way that was irresponsible and hurt public discourse.

    I'm with President Clinton on this. Everyone (on all sides of the ideological spectrum) should exhibit more care in their exercise of free speech. And we all should call them on it. I, a fiscal conservative, have been openly against the angry tenor on conservative talk radio for some time. I have yet to hear the liberal outcry against Garofalo.

    What we need is more policing on our OWN sides. People tend to get all up in arms when the "other" side is irresponsible in its exercise of free speech. We need more conservatives (like me) arguing against the tone and some of the content on talk radio. We also need liberals to condemn when a liberal abuses freedom of speech like Janeane Garofalo did.

  2. Janeane Garofalo is originally from the world of standup comedy, where outrageous generalizations are, basically, what you do for a living. Her statement, taken literally, is irresponsible. On an opinionated show like "Countdown", I don't think you can take every statement at face value.

    You and I clearly disagree about the nature of the Tea Partiers. You see principled fiscal conservatives-I see anti-Obama nutjobs. Just like not every Tea Partier is a principled fiscal conservative, not every Partier is an anti-Obama nutjob.

    Garofalo, just like Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter, and Sean Hannity, is using over the top exaggeration to get attention and buzz. She should be called out for it, as you say-and you have.

    So did Lou Dobbs. (

    That still doesn't answer my question-if Tea Partiers are so fiscally conservative, why weren't they protesting no bid contracts in Iraq? Why weren't they protesting that the full costs of the war be included in the defense budget? Why weren't they protesting the massive amounts of corporate welfare that we shovel out the door every single year?

    I submit, again, that the heart of Tea Partying, whatever the motives of any individual member, is anti-Obama, anti-Democrat, and anti-spending on social programs.

    What Janeane said was irresponsible, and I think she knows better. But her larger point is still unanswered-you're so worried about higher taxes? Where was the outrage in 2003?

  3. When he was President, Bill Clinton talked of the necessity of censoring political opinion in the airwaves, and wanted to bring back a defunct policy which did just that.

    In February he said "Former president and senior Democratic statesman Bill Clinton has joined a growing drumbeat for government regulation of radio talk shows, claiming the U.S. "ought to have the Fairness Doctrine or we ought to have more balance on the other side."

    It's extremely scary, and puts the First Amendment in danger, when freedom of the press is only allowed for those who have vies that the government thinks is "fair". The idea of freedom of the press is that the people decide what is balanced or not, not thin-skinned ruling elites. But this fits with a growing call among Democrats to censor opposing voices from the media.

    "you're so worried about higher taxes? Where was the outrage in 2003?"

    Because Bush was cutting taxes for all taxpayers. A policy which resulted in increased overall revenue and blunted some of the economic damage caused by 9/11. That is to be praised, not condemned. Also, the amount that might have been overpaid due to Halliburton through a "no-bid" contract is insignificant in comparison to Obama's huge pork bills just in these first few months.

    I saw no nutjobs at the tea party I saw. Except maybe one who equated Obama with Hitler. Some if it, the Democrats should be embarassed to be on the other side. For example, there was one person with a sign wanting Geithner removed from his position. Yet, the Democrats by and large defend having a tax-criminal heading Treasury. What's up with that?

  4. I haven't seen the Lou Dobbs bit, but I'm not surprised people are angry. You defend her by saying "On an opinionated show like "Countdown", I don't think you can take every statement at face value." I disagree. When the comedy is based on current events and our government, there should be some standard for reality-based comments. When someone goes so far off the reservation, they should be called out. By everyone. You then compare her to Sean Hannity and Anne Coulter. I have about as much use for them. I'm glad you agree that we should target our fire equally across the ideological spectrum.

    I believe I already answered your question about 2003. I don't know who was protesting or angry in 2003. I was recently married, switching careers, and shortly to start a family. Yes, I read the papers when I could, but didn't have the time to devote so much energy to politics. I'm sorry that the timing of my political involvement bugs you, or that you see some kind of conspiracy in it. As for a few years ago, while many of those things were upsetting, I simply wasn't in the place in my life to attend a protest mid-week or keep up with a blog. That's just my story, but it is the truth.

    You write, "I submit, again, that the heart of Tea Partying, whatever the motives of any individual member, is anti-Obama, anti-Democrat, and anti-spending on social programs." Yes, but not in that order. Anti-(excessive, irresponsible, unaffordable) spending first. Anti-Democrat (in so far as they are the party in power and these are the programs they are persuing). Anti-Obama (in so far as he is the head of the Democratic party). The order of people's anger is important.

    Look, I absolutely adore Obama. I saw him give that speech at the Democratic convention that put him on the map a while back when he was just a new Senator from Illonois. I was positively riveted. He's amazing - smart, articulate (a nice change of pace), good-looking, charismatic, and sincere. I WISH WISH WISH we had one of him on the conservative side of things. There, is that enough Obama love for you? And I mean it. It is possible for me to deeply admire and respect the man, and still believe that his policies are the wrong ones for this country.

  5. Got to disagree with dmarks (who I usually agree with!). Geitner's tax problems were the result of a tax code that is entirely too long, too complex, and, in a word, ridiculous. His entire career is wrapped up in public service in the economy. Do you really think he would risk all that to save a very small amount of money by cheating on his taxes? His mistake I firmly believe was honest. It only shows how much we need tax reform.

  6. Jeanne: The part he did not pay was obvious, and he was told about how to pay it. Still, he did not. Someone raised the point that he was either stupid, or sneaky. Either way, it does not make him look good.

    "I saw him give that speech at the Democratic convention that put him on the map a while back when he was just a new Senator from Illonois. I was positively riveted. "

    I saw that speech too. I agree with you on it, and have never heard one as good from him since.

  7. I agree that the Fairness Doctrine is lamebrained. It would be fine, with me personally, if any station that plays Limbaugh had to follow it with Ed Schultz. But that's not fair, and I don't think there is a serious movement afoot to bring it back. Whoever sells the most commercial time should get to have a radio show, period.

    I think the idea of freedom of the press is not that the people decide what is fair, but that no one does-everyone who can afford to buy a radio license and a radio station can broadcast whatever the hell they want.

    Bush massively redistributed income to the upper echelons. He irresponsibly spent on Medicare Part D and the war. I should have been clearer-no one marched when Part D passed. No one marched when billions in our cash disappeared in Iraq. Yet they're marching now.

    And Jeanne-I don't hold you personally responsible for not protesting in 2003. As you said, you were busy.

    I question the motives of the Tea Party group as a whole.

    Why is THIS spending so bad? Because it doesn't go to Kellogg, Brown, and Root? Because the things we're buying now don't explode?

  8. Maybe because national defense is a legitimate federal expense, and 9,000 pork "earmarks" and billions of dollars for free healthcare for rich adults (which falsely claiming it is for poor children) is not.

  9. Invading a country which didn't attack us is a legitimate expense? Overpaying for services that the military could perform itself is a legitimate expense? Billions of dollars disappearing from the CPA is a legitimate expense?

    And paying for SCHIP is not?


  10. Iraq targetted/fired upon our peacekeepers hundreds of times. Surely one of these counts. Saddam also funded, supported, and promoted numerous terrorist groups that killed large numbers of Americans. Surely one of these counts. The retaliation against Saddam's regime: was just that. Retaliation. One thing 9/11 taught us was that it was folly to let terrorists go on attacking us.

    "And paying for SCHIP is not?"

    SCHIP is scam. The name implies that it is for needy children, yet it provides health care for very well off adults. It is the Republicans who wanted it means tested (so it went to only poor children), and the Democrats who insist that this program be a sort of "Welfare for the rich". Bush was wise to veto it.

  11. A bad idea is like a virus.

    Saddam was not responsible for 9/11. Period.

    EVEN IF I concede that Iraq was a legitimate expense, which I don't, it was never included in the budget or paid for! THAT is the outrage-increasing spending while cutting taxes and expecting it all to work itself out in the end.

    Expanding health care to cover more people? Oh, the horror.

  12. "Saddam was not responsible for 9/11. Period."

    Terrorists were responsible for 9/11. Ones that happened to be supported by Saddam Hussein, even if he did not carry out the action. While he did not carry out 9/11, he funded and ordered many other attacks. It would have been folly to let him continue these major cease-fire violations.

    Saddam did not order 9/11. Yes. and Nazi Germany did not order Pearl Harbor.

    "THAT is the outrage-increasing spending while cutting taxes"

    That's not the outrage. We were at war against Saddam's regime, not the American taxpayer. The idea was to stop the terrorists, not rob the taxpayers even more.

    "Expanding health care to cover more people? Oh, the horror."

    Rich people can afford their own health care, and don't need handouts from the government.

  13. Saddam hated Al Queda-he was a secular leader, who was paranoid about everyone besides him. The idea that he aided the terrorists that attacked us is ludicrous, and has been debunked six ways from Sunday.

    Have you priced health insurance lately?


I apologize for making you sign in, but I'm trying to cut down on spam.