Audacity of Censorship,
Natalia J. Garland
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
"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
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
[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
(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
(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.)
another essay on a similar topic, see A Fleeting Political Movement, Part III
Until we meet