The following column was published in The Hartford Courant, September 24, 2008
By Jim Diamond
The Democratic Party has always been the champion of the freedoms Americans hold dear. One such basic freedom is freedom of speech. This week, however, the leaders of the Democratic Party in Connecticut will decide whether the Party’s proud history of fighting censorship will endure or the Party will yield to the current temptation to silence speech, speech that offends and angers them.
A group of prominent Democratic state legislators, State Central Committee Members and local Town Committee members have introduced a resolution to be voted on Wednesday evening in Hartford to censure United States Senator Joseph Lieberman. Censure is a serious form of discipline that deliberative bodies use to punish or rebuke members of the organization. This resolution calls on the State Central Committee, of which I am a member, to “publicly censure and repudiate the words and actions” of Senator Lieberman and to “ ask him to resign from the Party.”
One would expect that such a rebuke would follow a serious breach —such as an official convicted of a serious crime. And, so, what was Senator Lieberman’s crime that warrants this censure? He gave a speech at the Republican National Convention praising Republican John McCain and criticizing Democrat Barack Obama. And while this speech caused many Democrats to be justifiably upset, the speech was not a hateful speech nor did it provoke Americans to resort to violence. It was not a speech which could, in some way, be deemed to threaten national security. It offended Connecticut Democrats however, because Senator Lieberman is, well, a registered Democrat, and because his career was built on many years of support from the Party faithful. Lieberman has further angered this group by “actively campaigning” for McCain.
One wonders where my fellow Democratic leaders were with their expression of outrage and calls for censure two short years ago when the Democratic State Senator from Bridgeport, Ernest Newton, went to prison for accepting bribes, or three years before that when the Democratic Mayor of Waterbury, Joseph Ganim was sent to prison for extortion and racketeering. No resolution calling for censure followed those egregious criminal acts.
The most effective, tried and true American remedy for speech that makes your blood boil is more speech, not censorship. Or, in the more eloquent words written by Justice Louis Brandeis in Whitney v. California, “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.” Brandeis believed that citizens have a vital obligation to take part in the governing process and that if unpopular views are squelched it cramps freedom, and in the long run, strangles democratic processes. Thus, free speech is not an abstract value, but a key element that lies at the heart of a democratic society.
This is why when the Democratic Party gathered at the convention in Detroit a few weeks ago it adopted a platform which called for China to adopt civil rights and, yes, freedom of speech. Before we demand sweeping changes across the globe we must first ensure that we are adhering to our cherished freedoms right here at home.
As published in The Hartford Courant, September 24, 2008