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Audacity of Censorship,
Part I

Part II

Natalia J. Garland

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Senator Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, appear to work together as a team in Senator Obama's presidential campaign. Mrs. Obama has given several speeches in support of her husband, and she has made controversial remarks which have prompted some people to question her love of America. Especially troubling were her remarks that America is a "mean country," and, "for the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country."

In reaction to Mrs. Obama's remarks, the Tennessee G.O.P. ran a T.V. advertisement in which various people stated why they were proud of America. The ad was four minutes long, and a video clip of Mrs. Obama's first-time-proud remark was shown six times. In an interview aired on the T.V. program, Good Morning America, Senator Obama (with Mrs. Obama sitting beside him) discussed the ad and G.O.P. political tactics. The following is quoted from A.B.C. News.

"The G.O.P., should I be the nominee, I think can say whatever they want to say about me, my track record," Obama said. "I've been in public life for 20 years. I expect them to pour through everything that I've said, every utterance, every statement. And to paint it in the most undesirable light possible. That's what they do."

"But I do want to say this to the G.O.P. If they think that they're going to try to make Michelle an issue in this campaign, they should be careful. Because that I find unacceptable," he said.

Obama praised his wife's patriotism and said that for Republicans "to try to distort or to play snippets of her remarks in ways that are unflattering to her I think is just low class....and especially for people who purport to be promoters of family values, who claim that they are protectors of the values and ideals and the decency of the American people to start attacking my wife in a political campaign I think is detestable."

Obama later added, "I think that the American people also would like to see some restoration of decency to this process. And when you start attacking family members, there's a lack of decency there."
[End of quotes.]

Senator Obama seems to have committed some faulty reasoning in his discussion. (1) He has placed critics in a communication bind by indirectly censoring speech. (2) He has blurred the boundary between the private and public spheres of his life. (3) He has underestimated the importance of a first lady's viewpoints. (4) He has made a strong objection which he probably cannot enforce.

(1) Senator Obama has indirectly restricted the freedom of speech, particularly the speech of those who might critique or disagree with Mrs. Obama. Anyone who objects to Mrs. Obama's remarks might be labeled a "low life," or might feel "detestable" in the Senator's judgment. This bind places critics in the position of either remaining silent, or speaking out at the risk of disapproval. Whether the G.O.P. advertisement was done tastefully, or whether it should have focused on the Senator instead of Mrs. Obama, is not the primary issue. The real issue is that Americans have a right to exercise freedom of speech, even if their message shows poor taste.

(2) Mrs. Obama entered public life when she chose to campaign on behalf of her husband. Her speeches have been recorded and video-taped. As a public figure, she is open to evaluation and criticism. Reporters are not chasing her into her home, and critics are not intruding into any aspect of her personal life. Her privacy has been respected. The content of Mrs. Obama's public speeches, however, can be used accordingly for or against her husband's campaign. Holding her accountable does not violate her personal life or her family.

(3) The role of the first lady is esteemed in America. Every first lady seems to advocate for some worthy cause, to travel and to meet people, and to entertain dignitaries. What she does, what she says, and even what she wears becomes a topic for admirers, critics, and everyday people. The first lady represents America. Mrs. Obama's opinion of America is significant and, if there are questions or misunderstandings, then she must be willing to clarify or elaborate on her words. If a pattern of negativity develops, then the public cannot help noticing this and forming decisions based on this.

(4) Senator Obama apparently attempted to defend his wife's honor, even though she is very capable of defending herself. He also seemed to align with her in an us-against-them fashion. He reinforced their solidarity as a couple and as a political team--except that the public and the opposition are not allowed to criticize her half of the team. The Senator took an authoritarian approach without having the capacity to back this stance. What will he do when the next person criticizes, satirizes, or verbally attacks Mrs. Obama? Will he scold them, ruin their career with a lawsuit, or use his relationship with his wife to detract from other more serious problems facing our nation?

Or, will he appeal to the American people to restore decency, thereby pressuring the G.O.P. and other critics to apologize? This tactic might succeed with politically correct and easily intimated politicians who fear losing favor, but it will fail with many political thinkers and the common people. Recently, Senator Obama made negative remarks about people who cling to faith in God, who own guns, and now....who exercise freedom of speech. To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men--Abraham Lincoln. Let us continue as Americans to bravely and intelligently raise questions, evaluate viewpoints, and confront any censorship of differences in opinions. (Written 05/21/08: bibliography available.)

[NOTE: For another essay on a similar topic, see A Fleeting Political Movement, Part III (written 12/04/08).]

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2008 Natalia J. Garland