So I’m watching HBO’s “Real Time” with comedian and social critic Bill Maher, and during his final “New Rules” monologue he reminded me about how important it is that we not limit freedom of expressions or opinions in this country.
I’m a firm adherent to the doctrine of free speech, whether it promotes hate or inspires love. Simply put, putting restrictions on someone else’s right to voice their opinion potentially limits my own. Individuals—unless it is obviously and immediately disruptive to society—should be able to speak without censor or sanction, except that of counter opinions.
What makes attempts to put a lid on free speech dangerous and counter-productive is that it limits the information that we use to engage in a reasonable discourse on potential and actual government and/or social policies. Especially policies which seek to influence thinking and opinion of the general public…regardless how devoid of reason such policies are.
These converging issues, free speech and irrational government policy, became the focus of news earlier this week when Florida Marlin’s baseball team coach Ozzie Guillen responded to a question by a Time Magazine writer about men he admired. The often outspoken veteran sports figure reportedly responded,
"I love Fidel Castro" and "I respect Fidel Castro. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that [expletive] is still here."
As is the case whenever a public figure airs a personally-held opinion, he was condemned and forced to apologize.
As a blogger, voracious reader, and information-news junkie, I must admit that I have heard far more controversial and far worse commentary by other public figures, some being our elected officials. However, what I find disturbing are the calls for Guillen’s firing…and for what? For daring to express a personally-held admiration for someone whom nine American presidential administrations have blindly expressed contempt for based on an outdated international policy?
In the early 1970s, the Nixon Administration established formal diplomatic relations with then “Red China”s as a counter to Soviet adversarial relations, and forsaking the previous recognition of the “real” Chinese government on the island of Taiwan (where Western-friendly Chinese Nationalists fled after being defeated by pro-Moscow Mao Zedong’s Communists in 1949). During this time, 50 million Chinese were being starved to death as a result of Mao’s state-sanctioned policies. Also during this time, thousands of Chinese were still being arrested and summarily executed for ambiguous “crimes against the state,” and free speech was still harshly suppressed. Chinese military forces had even fought against American forces during the Korean War. And as late as the 1989, the year of the massacre of young dissidents in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, the United States continued its diplomatic ties to (yes…”communist”) China.
But we still continued and continue to condemn Cuba based on our ideological demonization of Castro’s brand of “communism” (and the fact that the American government couldn’t stand that Castro nationalized foreign-owned interests in order to pay for socioeconomic reforms he instituted in order to establish his communist policies only 90 miles off our shores). Ok, so Cuban exiles in Miami are still a little peeved that Castro is still alive and kicking. You’re not there, and he’s not in power—in theory anyway. Is that a reason to rake a man over the coals because he is able see through the propaganda machine of our often irrational policy toward Cuba to still admire the man who’s made such a mark on the country for the last 50 years?
However, practical as it was that Guillen apologized, it says a lot for the erosion of free speech in this country when people must yield to the opinion of a small but vocal minority group...especially when our foreign policy toward Cuba makes no rational sense. Censoring Guillen’s and others’ right to be heard and to put forth opposing points of thinking with regard to public policy limits discourse. America has been in bedfellows with far worse dictators, had relations with far worse regimes…some guilty of war crimes! Yet, we continue to ostracize the government of Cuba based on an outdated ideological--not rational--policy.
For a brilliant summary of this issue, I invite you to watch Friday’s broadcast of Maher’s “New Rules” segment from “Real Time.”
It seems that when it comes to American foreign policy, there are "Communists" and there are Communists. And when it comes to personal opinions and free speech, there are opinions which are "honest" and those which are "correct."