When Rush Limbaugh backed out of his part in the bid to buy the Saint Louis Rams, it was further evidence that the intrinsic right to free speech is further under assault in the US. Limbaugh is known for being an extremist in many of his views and unapologetic for them, but that is the very type of speech that must be protected, because to silence dissent is to neuter democracy.
Free speech is being eroded by both sides of the fence. During the Bush administration, the tactic of choice to silent dissent was to say that any disagreement was “Un-American” and “enabling our enemies.” By painting any who opposed his wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as traitors, it caused a form of peer pressure censorship. The left is not immune to their own form of peer pressure censorship, as they are quick to decry any speech that someone may find ‘offensive.’ This has created a culture that is quick to jump on any statements that may offend some group of people, and has created the dog and pony show of canned apologies.
No less a man than Thomas Jefferson said, “dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” By stifling dissent, both sides are limiting speech and therefore silencing debate. In George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel 1984, where “the party” had the intent to destroy thought, and did this through the creation of the language of “Newspeak” which was designed to reduce the number of words available. These two concepts show that in order for a society to remain free, the right to speech must not be abridged, as the silence of thought is the breeding ground of tyranny.
As it stands, any form of speech regarding race that slightly diverges from the concept of ‘diversity’ is instantly labled hate-speech. The problem with the concept of hate-speech is that it is quite like the concept of ‘thought-crime’ in 1984. It is easy to want to silence groups like the Aryan Nation or the American Communist Party, but their ability to maintain and publicly share their views are entrenched in the first amendment to the constitution. However, by protecting their right to share their views, it is also protecting the right to disagree with them.
Limbaugh has created controversy with his remarks about Donovan McNabb on ESPN, as well as numerous other statements he has made about President Obama. He has made his career being a boisterous blowhard shill for the right wing agenda, but he has his right to his beliefs, as well as his right to voice them. The NFL missed its chance to support freedom of speech. Voltaire said it best, “I may not agree with what you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it.”