Sunday, August 09, 2009
There's a famous Norman Rockwell painting titled "Freedom of Speech," depicting an idealized American town meeting. The painting, part of a series illustrating F.D.R.'s "Four Freedoms," shows an ordinary citizen expressing an unpopular opinion. His neighbors obviously don't like what he's saying, but they're letting him speak his mind.
That's a far cry from what has been happening at recent town halls, where angry protesters—some of them, with no apparent sense of irony, shouting "This is America!"—have been drowning out, and in some cases threatening, members of Congress trying to talk about health reform.
Ian Urbina, "Beyond Beltway, Health Debate Turns Hostile," New York Times (August 7, 2009):
The bitter divisions over an overhaul of the health care system have exploded at town-hall-style meetings over the last few days as members of Congress have been shouted down, hanged in effigy and taunted by crowds. In several cities, noisy demonstrations have led to fistfights, arrests and hospitalizations.
One of the week's most raucous encounters occurred Thursday in Tampa, Fla., where roughly 1,500 people attended a forum held by Democratic lawmakers, including Representative Kathy Castor. When the auditorium at the Children's Board of Hillsborough County reached capacity and organizers had to close the doors, the scene descended into violence.
As Ms. Castor began to speak, scuffles broke out as people tried to push their way in. Parts of her remarks were drowned out by chants of "read the bill, read the bill" and "tyranny," as a video recording of the meeting showed. Outside the meeting, there were competing chants of "Yes we can" and "Just say no."
Cicero, Letters to his brother Quintus, 2.3.2 (56 B.C., tr. D.R. Shackleton Bailey):
Milo appeared on 7 February. Pompey spokeor rather tried to speak, for no longer was he on his feet than Clodius' gang raised a clamour, and all through the speech he was interrupted not merely by shouting but by booing and abuse. When he wound up (and I will say he showed courage; he was not put off, delivered all he had to say, sometimes even managing to get silence by his personal authority)well, when he wound up, Clodius rose. Wishing to repay the compliment, our side gave him such an uproarious reception that he lost command of thoughts, tongue, and countenance. That lasted till half past one, Pompey having finished just after middayall manner of insults, ending up with some highly scabrous verse to the address of Clodius and Clodia. Pale with fury, he started a game of question and answer in the middle of the shouting: 'Who's starving the people to death?' 'Pompey,' answered the gang. 'Who wants to go to Alexandria?' Answer: 'Pompey.' 'Whom do you want to go?' Answer: 'Crassus' (who was present as a supporter of Milo, wishing him no good). About 2:15 the Clodians started spitting at us, as though on a signal. Sharp rise in temperature! They made a push to dislodge us, our side countercharged. Flight of gang. Clodius was hurled from the Rostra, at which point I too made off for fear of what might happen in the free-for-all.
A. d. VII. Id. Febr. Milo adfuit. dixit Pompeius, sive voluit. nam ut surrexit, operae Clodianae clamorem sustulerunt, idque ei perpetua oratione contigit, non modo ut acclamatione, sed ut convicio et maledictis impediretur. qui ut peroravit (nam in eo sane fortis fuit, non est deterritus, dixit omnia atque interdum etiam silentio, cum auctoritate pervicerat)—sed ut peroravit, surrexit Clodius, ei tantus clamor a nostris (placuerat enim referre gratiam) ut neque mente nec lingua neque ore consisteret. ea res acta est, cum hora sexta vix Pompeius perorasset, usque ad horam octavam, cum omnia maledicta, versus denique obscenissimi in Clodium et Clodiam dicerentur. ille furens et exsanguis interrogabat suos in clamore ipso quis esset qui plebem fame necaret: respondebant operae 'Pompeius.' quis Alexandriam ire cuperet: respondebant 'Pompeius.' quem ire vellent: respondebant 'Crassum' (is aderat tum Miloni, animo non amico). hora fere nona quasi signo data Clodiani nostros consputare coeperunt. exarsit dolor. urgere illi ut loco nos moverent. factus est a nostris impetus, fuga operarum. eiectus de rostris Clodius, ac nos quoque tum fugimus, ne quid in turba.