In Season two of the epic HBO series Rome, Brutus offers up a rousing speech to the masses to which Marc Antony quips, “Nice speech Brutus, but a bit too cerebral for that audience.” Whether this sneer harkens back to Shakespeare or Plutarch’s biographies is anyone’s guess. But the insult is obvious: you are speaking over the heads of the mob.
Politics and speech have been, and always will be, associated with power. Power to excite the masses, power to incite the masses, and the power to calm a raging citizenry. In the case of Brutus, if we take Plutarch’s writing to heart, Brutus used his speech following the death of Julius Caesar to ratchet up the tension in an already smoldering Rome:
And when he [Brutus] saw that the people were mightily swayed and charmed by is words, he mingled with his praises sorrow and indignation over the dreadful deed [of Caesar’s death] an at the close of the speech shook on high the garments of the dead, all bloody and tattered by the swords as they were, called those who had wrought such work villains and murderers, and inspired his hearers with such rage that they heaped together benches and tables and burned Caesar’s body in the forum and then, snatching the blazing faggots from the pyre, ran to the houses of the assassins and assaulted them.
So, if we reach back in history – even as far back as the Roman empire – there can be no doubt that inflammatory political rhetoric can turn the people into a seething mob ready for all manner of malevolent behavior. But just as a firearm does not aim itself and pull the trigger, nor the homemade IED load itself with incendiary devices and explode, words cannot be impugned as the basis for cruel and vicious human deeds.
And yet just yesterday we witnessed a modern-day Brutus take center stage.
As written about in Liberty Nation here, Congressman Rodney Davis (R-IL)stood before live cameras wearing his bloody uniform and called the shooting at a Congressional baseball field in Alexandria, VA, “the result of political rhetorical terrorism.” While playing the part of an audacious American, the good Congressman refused to elucidate precisely what political speech to which he was referring. Ever the poseur, Davis took to his self-righteous soapbox to lecture the plebeian masses without really saying anything meaningful. So very brave of him, don’t you think?
Political speech, the most protected of all speech under the First Amendment of the Constitution, can and must be safeguarded in a free society at all costs. Thus, we must resist the urge to silence those with whom we disagree.
At the same time, civility and freedom of speech seem to have lost its allure in contemporary America. This is particularly true of the elite establishment media who manage to twist and appropriate every action or word into their own narrative – leaving any component of truth so far behind it is entirely unrecognizable.
In the days of the Soviet Union, this used to be called propaganda. Today in America we simply call it the MSM, the establishment media or the elite media. These monikers only serve to hide their real identity – that of brainwashers – people who exist to fill the minds of the masses with their perspective, their narrative, their beliefs. Disagree, and you’ll be yanked off the air, or the stage, or the movie-set. Deviate from their viewpoint, and you will be fired or labeled any number of “phobes” – homophobe, Islamophobe, xenophobe – take your pick.
You see the problem with speech in this country isn’t that there is too much of it, but rather there isn’t enough freedom for it in America today. We aren’t allowed to disagree any longer. We must toe the line and agree with the powerful. And when we don’t, we, along with our speech become the villain.
Unfortunately, or fortunately – depending upon your point of view — the American spirit is not a compliant one. At heart, Americans are a revolutionary people. We are not a people at ease with listening to others as if their opinion were gospel. We believe that liberty and freedom of speech are the very soul of who we are as a people. We need room to maneuver, to disagree, to argue a point – that is the very essence of rhetoric – discourse.
And so, Mr. Congressman from Illinois or the folks behind the flat screens at CNN or ABC or MSNBC or wherever take note: We will not listen to you. We will not be brainwashed to your way of thinking. We will speak our minds. We will not shut up. Your speech is not too cerebral for us. We know and understand exactly what you are saying and we reject it.
(Hat tip: Alan B. Kelly)