06 May 2012

Naïve or Noble?

It seems that the senate race in Massachusetts is confounding the pols and pundits.  According to the NPR, both candidates have sworn off attack ads and have asked third parties to do so as well.  Here is the story: Pledge Holds Attack Ads At Bay In Mass. Senate Race : NPR

Now, what got my attention was the complaint down in the report, to wit:

… the ceasefire depends on the cooperation of outside groups, and many are already restless on the sidelines.  When the Coalition of Americans for Political Equality, for example, was asked to pull its ad in March, chairman Jeff Loyd did so only reluctantly.  "We disagree with the purpose of the pledge because we wish to exercise our freedoms and legal right to support anybody we want," Loyd says.”

Yes, they have the right to say whatever they want.  Short of “falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater,” of course.  But as that old curmudgeon G. K. Chesterton observed long ago, “To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it.”

This idea is what is missing from out libertarian times.  Our civil rights give us room to be wrong.  No law can perfectly circumscribe right and wrong, being made by imperfect human beings.  Therefore it is best to give people as much room as possible to act and speak, which is what the ‘clear and present danger’ standard is all about.

But that does not include the right to do wrong, by which I mean to use the broad power of free speech to deceive.  We all know that political advertising plays fast and loose with facts, including those who make those ads.  What saddens our hope and sours our trust is that the ends of election justify the means of campaigning. 

It is wrong, and everyone knows it.  It is legal, yes, but it is wrong.  Thus we despair that the freedom we grant each other is not equaled by a similar decency toward each other.  Society depends on both.  In Massachusetts they are trying at least. 

1 comment:

Jay Kilpatrick said...

As the libertarians are fond of saying, "Freedom is not free.". I think one of the little understood and overlooked costs of freedom is the responsibility we have to each other to use those freedoms wisely. The quality of public discourse today certainly reflects a deficit of wisdom.