Water Man Spouts

Friday, February 15, 2008

Talk Ain't Cheap

"The Bureau expended much of its energy, it must be said, on singularly inane objectives – trying to stop King’s honorary degrees, the publication of his articles, his meeting with British leaders after he collected his Nobel Prize. The vendetta reached its climax on November 18, 1964, when the director, in a rare press conference, denounced King as ‘the most notorious liar in the country.’ King responded that Hoover must be ‘faltering’ under his burdens."
--Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.; Robert Kennedy and his times; page 280.

At a time when her campaign for the democratic party’s nomination for the presidency has begun to falter, Senator Hillary Clinton has begun to attack Barack Obama by saying, "Words are cheap." That would seem to fly in the face of the American experience.

The Founding Fathers recognized that words are not cheap. The first amendment in the Bill of Rights is proof of that: it addresses the need to have both free speech and a free press, in order to have a free nation. Words are not cheap.

Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, Benjamin Franklin and the others who spoke about a new way of forming a more perfect union were risking their very lives. Their words were not cheap.

When great thinkers, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau spoke about self-reliance and civil disobedience, their words were not cheap.

When Sojourner Truth addressed the Ohio Women’s Rights Conference, and when Elizabeth Cady Stanton spoke to the Legislature of the State of New York about Women’s Rights, their words were not cheap.

When Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass focused the nation’s attention on the evils of the institution of slavery, they knew they risked paying the ultimate price. Yet they dared to speak out at a time when the nation needed to hear the truth. Their words were not cheap.

When Langston Hughes spoke of rivers, and Woody Guthrie sang about land, each delivered a valuable message to the people of this nation.

Presidents from FDR to JFK delivered historical messages: their words were not cheap. Rebels like Tom Hayden, in his Port Huron Statement, and Muhammad Ali, in his refusal to be drafted, paid a price for their words. Their message was not cheap.

Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were the conscience of our country. Their words remain a most powerful message and source of inspiration. Their words were not cheap.

In the quote about Hoover’s attempt to discredit Martin, we see what is actually "cheap": the organized actions that aim to deny not only a speaker the right to deliver a message, but also the desperate attempt to deny the public fair access to that message.

We have witnessed this same cheap type of action in every attempt to silence a journalist, or suppress publication of a book. The fear of ideas is cheap. This nation has been subjected to the closed-minded actions of those who fear ideas in every generation. There were those who did not want evolution taught in public schools; there are still those who want to force their prayers to be recited in today’s classrooms.

We also are too often subjected to the abuses of power and criminal activities of those politicians who think that words do not really matter. The president spoke the infamous "16 words" that the administration knew were not true, in his 2003 State of the Union speech. A dozen members of the administration took part in an organized operation to destroy Joseph Wilson for telling the truth about those 16 words. At least four purposely spread either confidential information or outright lies to 10 journalists, regarding Wilson’s wife.

Scooter Libby was charged and convicted for federal offenses that involved lying about words. The president decided that not only are words cheap, but that a federal jury’s decision is also cheap, and he interfered with justice by cutting Scooter’s sentence.

We have lived for too long under an administration that believes that words are cheap. We have felt betrayed too many times by politicians who play word games. But more, we have too long a history of recognizing that words matter ….. and we know that our Constitutional democracy is rooted in that Amendment 1 call for free speech, even though it is expensive, indeed.

Hoover told black Americans not to get their hopes up too high. His message was stark: there was not going to be much change if he could help it. What kind of person wants to deliver a message of "don’t get your hopes up"?

Barack Obama is communicating a living Hope to the people of this country. If Senator Clinton disagrees with the specifics of his message, then she should put her cards on the table. But let’s not try to dismiss him with "talk is cheap."


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