Censorship Cannot Silence Truth: A Message to the White House
A White House blog post submitted on August 4, 2009, states that “opponents of health insurance reform may find the truth a little inconvenient, but as our second president famously said, ‘facts are stubborn things’.”
It continues, “Scary chain emails and videos” are popping up on the internet, attempting to discredit President Obama’s health care positions. Because “these rumors often travel just below the surface via chain emails or through casual conversation,” the White House is asking you to send anything that seems “fishy” to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The post did not include the entire quote from President John Adams, which came from his Argument in Defense of the Soldiers in the Boston Massacre Trials in December 1770:
“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”
Essentially, the White House feels it knows all the facts and has all the evidence necessary for health care reform and any piece of information, whether it’s from an email or a conversation with your neighbor, you have the responsibility to inform the White House.
My first reaction to this is, How do we know who has all, none, or only some of the facts? The short answer is that we don’t know, until each individual does his or her own research on any topic. We cannot expect to gain all knowledge if we ignore some information, rely only on one outlet for information, or are prevented from knowing some information completely. It is extremely difficult for individuals to gain full understanding of any topic if they are prevented the opportunity to freely interpret and research that topic as they see fit.
The First Amendment of the Constitution specifically prohibits any abridgment of free speech and the press. The protection of free speech and a free press are the only methods that guarantee people have the opportunity to voice their opinions and seek any information that they feel to. It must be remembered that only through free speech and a free press can sound discussion prosper.
This latest action from the White House does not promote free speech, sound discussion, and logical arguments. Much to the contrary, it promotes speech that only the government deems fit and factual, attempts to regulate and monitor neighborly discussions if necessary, and tries to discredit any argument that doesn’t agree with the President’s health care proposals.
This is an appropriate time to bring up the Merriam-Webster definition of censorship:
To examine in order to suppress or delete anything considered objectionable.
The White House, and many politicians, know that the President’s proposals for health care reform have lost popularity relatively quickly. Individuals grouping together to protest at the town hall meetings pushing forward the President’s health care agenda have received a large share of the blame. They have been called violent, they have been called mobs, they have been called racist (racism… health care… it makes sense!), they have even been labeled as paid pawns for the insurance corporations. All these individuals are doing is exercising their Natural and protected right to peacefully assemble, and apparently the government cannot stand it (is there any greater testimony to free speech and its protections under the First Amendment?).
None of the blame the White House has placed on individuals, businesses, political parties, and “angry mobs” has done the trick in reducing opposition. They are now attempting to enter the first stage of censorship: to examine in order to suppress. The White House actually believes that the reason for the decreasing popularity of the President’s health care reform is because of “fishy” emails and casual conversations. This sheer ignorance of what causes legislation to become unpopular makes me wonder if these so-called angry, racist, violent, and paid protesters have some valid points.
If the White House and many Democrat representatives really believe that a hugely complicated, expensive, and sweeping change of health care can be brought down through a few spam emails and conversations, maybe that legislation really is worthy of increased discussion from all viewpoints, parties, and individuals; not less.
The White House fails to point out, of course, that those who want to push forward the President’s message of health care reform could just as easily spread false information or propaganda through emails, websites, and casual conversation. If you are going to attempt to censor “disinformation of health care reform,” shouldn’t you censor the non-factual information in support of the President’s plan as well? If the White House knows all the facts, they ought to discredit all individuals attempting to spread false information. Who are we as people to send an email or start a discussion that the White House doesn’t verify as factually correct?
A debate won through censorship can never be called a true victory. For it is won not through principle and sound argument, but manipulation and deceit. With freedom of speech comes freedom of thought, neither is fully effective or meaningful without the other. “Free speech” is not here to protect speech that the government appreciates or needs for an agenda. It is to specifically prohibit government from infringing on the right to free speech, unless it is through the due process of law as protected and mandated in the 4th and 5th Amendments. The White House simply has no superiority, legally or morally, over what people ought to freely write, think, or discuss.
As former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura said in 2008, it is not popular speech that needs protecting, but unpopular speech. Speech that people and the government appreciate comes with the natural protection of popularity. Even if the words coming from some people and outlets are not factually correct as the White House claims, it does not give government a shred of authority to monitor, suppress, or censor speech or thought. (The First Amendment does not protect free speech “so long as all words are factually correct according to the Federal Government.”) The ultimate censorship does not come from a government official, the White House, or Congress, but through the individual’s right to choose what to read, listen to, and discuss.
If the President’s health care reform plan is everything that politicians claim it to be, truth will be the victor. No amount of emails and discussions could result in its lasting demise. If it is what they say it is, free and voluntary discussion and thought should be a boon, not a danger, in creating a respectable, worthwhile, and helpful health care reform bill. It comes down to the fact that the White House today is attempting to censor and discredit all those who oppose the President’s health care proposals.
The censorship and citizen informant program does not strengthen the White House’s message, it discredits it. For if the facts they claim to hold maintain the truth they claim to represent; freedom of speech, thought, and discussion is the absolute last thing they need to worry about.
“Censorship reflects society’s lack of confidence in itself. It is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime.” - Potter Stewart
“Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.” – Albert Einstein
“We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.” – John F. Kennedy