I believe fervently in free speech, but with it must come some sense of responsibility, and I find it difficult to precisely delineate what that means. There have been cases where the Supreme Court has ruled free speech might not be permitted, but the only general restriction on free speech has to do with “Inciting actions that would harm others” (like falsely shouting “fire” in a crowded theater). This helps a bit, but it also rather begs the question, how does one know what might actually harm others, and how much harm must be involved or avoided?
Let us consider the case of what I think should be considered irresponsible speech, and let us use the case of Newt Gingrich. I have to insert a disclaimer here as I am terribly biased against Gingrich and find him “odious” in the extreme. Much of the reason I find him odious is because of his (I believe) abuse of his free speech privilege. I find his use of free speech often pathetically irresponsible for someone in such a public position. Of course Gingrich is not the only offender along these lines, but he is, I think, the poster child.
Gingrich is a demagogue without peer. He says things that appear to have no basis in fact and are deliberately designed to harm others, specifically at the moment, President Obama. Where, for example, does he find the facts to claim that Obama “wants to unilaterally weaken America?” On what basis or authority does he claim “Obama is the most dangerous President in American history?” He has also said Obama is an “extremist” who has voted to support infanticide! I gather this is because Obama once voted to protect abortion doctors (who were practicing medicine entirely in accordance with the law and vulnerable to being killed by right wing extremists for doing so).
How about : “The left-wing Democrats will represent the party of total hedonism, total exhibitionism, total bizarreness, total weirdness, and the total right to cripple innocent people in the name of letting hooligans loose?” Or “These people are sick. They are so consumed by their own power, by a Mussolini-like ego, that their willingness to run over normal human beings and to destroy honest institutions is unending.” Gingrich has also said, “The problem isn’t too little money in political campaigns, but not enough.” I’m sure one could find further examples of this kind of rhetoric. Notice what they all have in common, in addition to being mostly false, they are all gross exaggerations that put everything in the worst possible light. Gingrich could easily and reasonably disagree with Obama without the incredible, usually insulting distortions. I have heard repeatedly that Gingrich is brilliant, an idea man, indeed, THE idea man of the Republican Party. Personally, I doubt it. He is more like an Ann Coulter who says things mostly for their shock value because in fact he lacks anything positive to say, or at least anything that makes much sense. To partly understand why he says such basically negative, even hateful things, you have to understand what he apparently thinks of himself. Here is a sample:
“Gingrich primary mission: Advocate of civilization, definer of civilization, teacher of the rules of
civilization, leader of the civilizing forces.”
“I’m not a natural leader. I’m too intellectual; I’m too abstract; I think too much.”
“I have enormous personal ambition. I want to shift the entire planet. And I’m doing it. I am now a famous person. I represent real power.” It doesn’t matter what I do. People need to hear what I have to say. There’s no one else who can say what I can say. It doesn’t matter what I live.”
Gingrich is infected with the germ of grandiosity and conceives of himself as a kind of oracle, speaking from his position as a famous, brilliant, insightful, superior figure comparable to Churchill, Einstein, Buddha, Jefferson, and all the other Founding Fathers all wrapped up into one. A more precise description would be “Delusions of Grandeur.” He is basically an evil little man with more pretensions than intellect, that deliberately says harmful things to draw attention to himself. I believe what he says is in fact harmful, certainly harmful to the President of the United States, and because of that also harmful to our nation. His demagoguery is out of control, irresponsible, completely negative, factually incorrect, and hatefully presented. It is even harmful to himself, as while he may see himself as a great Statesman of note, he is, in fact, a Pompous Ass. Happily, as even most members of his own party can’t stand him, we need not worry about him ever becoming President. He truly needs to shut up, sit down, slink off into the sunset, and leave the rest of us alone.
“Em I bighet tru,” as they say in Melanesia.