Down with Free Speech?
August 30, 2002 6:24 AM   Subscribe

Down with Free Speech? Poll shows American support for the first Amendment down. Would any politician be stupid enough to try to capitalize on this sentiment? Should we all be watching our words?
posted by Hall (41 comments total)
 
This is one of the scariest things I have read in a long time...
posted by ElvisJesus at 6:35 AM on August 30, 2002


This is a public service announcement
With guitars
Know your rights - all three of 'em!

Number 1
You have the right not to be killed
Murder is a crime
Unless it was done
By a policeman or an aristocrat
Know your rights

And Number 2
You have the right to food money
Providing of course
You don't mind a little
Investigation, humiliation
And if you cross your fingers
Rehabilitation

Know your rights
These are your rights

Know these rights

Number 3
You have the right to free speech
As long as
You're not dumb enough to actually try it.

Know your rights
These are your rightsKnow your rights
These are your rights
All three of 'em
Hah!

And it has been suggested
In some quarters that this is not enough.
Well...

Get off the streets
Get off the streets
Run
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:46 AM on August 30, 2002


I just don't get it! Why would people feel (not think, I suspect) this way about 1st Ad. freedoms? Honestly, do the inconveniences of free speech really impact people that personally? I hope that these are just knee jerk answers to leading questions.
posted by TskTsk at 6:49 AM on August 30, 2002


Thankfully the first amendment invalidates idiotic poll results.
posted by owillis at 6:55 AM on August 30, 2002


Most americans believe in Jesus, Bigfoot, astrology, all sorts of conspiracy theories, are ill-educated, have little knowledge of history, can't tell a Communist Mainfesto quote from a quote out of the US Constitution, etc.

If free speech was dependant on polls we would have lost it long ago.
posted by skallas at 6:58 AM on August 30, 2002


The actual numbers (pdf) are not so different from other years as the news story would have us believe; however, they are interesting.

For example, more people strongly feel it's bad to say things offensive about a race (48%) than a religion (28%).

60% think the government has too much information about them, but would gleefully know the salaries and benefits packages of certain public employees (who are--surprise!--people too!).

Interesting stuff.
posted by frykitty at 6:59 AM on August 30, 2002


More on the First Amendment Center, part of the Freedom Forum which runs the Newseum in Arlington, VA.

Those less likely to support newspaper rights included people without a college education, Republicans, and evangelicals, the survey found.

Hmm...

Quoth Cinderella, You don't know what you got until it's gone.
posted by gottabefunky at 7:01 AM on August 30, 2002


The article talks about the First Amendment right to free speech, but the only questions actually mentioned involve religion - and the way the article is phrased makes it sound like the questions that were asked were along the lines of "do you think that government should be able to monitor the activities of one or more specific religions?", leaving the respondents open to fill in their own blank on just what "religions" were being monitored.

I'd like to see the complete set of questions that were asked before I said this poll indicates that half of Americans think the First Amendment "goes too far".

And on preview - I'll check out the actual results supplied by frykitty, and see if my hunches are right.
posted by yhbc at 7:03 AM on August 30, 2002


This week, 3rd amendment is up 3 points, 4th is down after five week of support, 1st amendment has taken a plunge, attributed to current tensions.

Question: is the third amendment the least controversial? Has it ever even been called into question?
posted by Lord Chancellor at 7:06 AM on August 30, 2002


So... 1,000 people in Tennessee and Virginia were asked about their general opinion towards Muslims.

Ironically: no comment.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:15 AM on August 30, 2002


Would any politician be stupid enough to try to capitalize on this sentiment?

What politician's haven't? Witness the DMCA, the USA-Patriot Act (shudder), and all the other post-Sept 11 legislation designed to pacify people's bloodlust. Furthermore, consider the terrible abuses of McCarthy era and the relationship between "stupid politicians" and free speech. Now compare the McCarthy era to US's domestic actions and policies in the last year.

This is the road we're travelling down, folks. And until something turns us around (cynically: 15 more years of civil rights degredation before we get another Warren Court), get used to it.

Should we all be watching our words?

Honestly, read some of the legislation, executive orders, and other policies out there and decide for yourself. Two words: Strong Encryption (Outlook, OE).
posted by LordMcD at 7:18 AM on August 30, 2002


"Support for first amendment" is really a misnomer. If the questions asked are about specific examples, what it shows is that people believe that example is not one that should be protected free speech/religion/assembly etc. It's really a dumb headline-oriented way to frame the poll.

There were First Amendment cases in the courts from the very beginning, and on any case there are at least two opinions -- or the case wouldn't exist. I don't think this is worth worrying over some Congressman reading this and thinking At last! My First Amendment repeal bill will surely pass! And next ... world domination!

In fact, the First Amendment itself has strong popular support, because liberals favor some aspects and conservatives others. And certainly there's hardly anyone who sees themselves as "anti-First Amendment".

Quartering soldiers might have been an issue during the civil war, but generally hasn't been a practical problem with a federally-funded standing army on its own soil. According to Findlaw, the Supreme Court has never really touched it. Hmm, LC: A Brief History of the Third Amendment.
posted by dhartung at 7:20 AM on August 30, 2002


is the third amendment the least controversial? Has it ever even been called into question?

According to this, it's only been touched on in a 1982 case, and never by the Supremes. It seems among the most straightforward, non-controversial of the amendments.
posted by owillis at 7:20 AM on August 30, 2002


Jinx!
posted by dhartung at 7:20 AM on August 30, 2002


Actually, dhartung, owillis and others (myself included) it appears from the source material frykitty provided that one question that was asked was in fact (paraphrasing because you can't cut and paste from pdf) "based on your own interpretation of the First Amendment, do you think it goes too far in protecting rights?" This year, 49% of the respondents indicated that they "strongly agree" with that sentiment. That does make it a little more scary.
posted by yhbc at 7:26 AM on August 30, 2002


Whenever someone refers to the US Supreme Court as "The Supremes," I get ugly visions of Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Sandra Day O'Conner singing "Baby Love" in those silly black gowns.
posted by adampsyche at 7:28 AM on August 30, 2002


Skallas has it right, I think. Most Americans are not aware enough to notice the erosion of our basic rights. For the record then: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion (praise Jesus!), or prohibiting the free exercise thereof (within the bounds of Christian norms or propriety); or abridging the freedom of speech (unless such speech is determined by the executive to be terroristic), or of the press (read $$$); or the right of the people peaceably to assemble (sans teargas?), and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances (how many are still being held incommunicado without charges?).
posted by ahimsakid at 7:30 AM on August 30, 2002


It may be worth it to remember that the founders - including those that wrote the first amendment - did not think in absolute terms about anything. They thought in terms of balances. The notion of liberty was always wedded to the notion of duty. The concept of freedom was talked about in the context of respect. The concept of rights was always joined to that of responsibilities. Most of the modern discourse about the first amendent seems to forget the "responsibilities" part. The first amendment does not mean one can simply say anything they want, anywhere they want, anytime they want, with no regard for what they are saying, or who they are saying it to (or about).
posted by MidasMulligan at 7:31 AM on August 30, 2002


The wording of the actual questions is problematic. I wonder if the participants understood what they were answering. For example, question 2:
The First Amendment became part of the U.S. Constitution more than 200 years ago. This is what it says: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." Based on your own feelings about the First Amendment, please tell me whether you agree or disagree with the following statement: The First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees.
To say you agree with the First Amendment, you have answer in the negative! Yes, you can work it out, but I wonder how many people stopped reading after 'please tell me whether you agree or disagree...', and just marked 'agree'.

There's something else weird going on. The number of people who answer this question saying that they 'strongly agree' that the First Amendment 'goes too far' has changed hugely in the just the last three years, from only 10% in 2000, to 29% in 2001, to 41% this year.

Do the public's political beliefs really change so dramatically, that quickly? As an example of how long it takes core political beliefs to change, it took decades for Americans' trust of 'big government' that was the residue of the success of the US government in prosecuting WWII to ebb away, and for today's general cynicism about government to take hold.

Public attitudes just don't change that quickly. There's something funky about this poll's methodology, or sample selection. I would be cautious about accepting its findings at face value.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 7:36 AM on August 30, 2002


"You have the right to food money
Providing of course
You don't mind a little
Investigation, humiliation
And if you cross your fingers
Rehabilitation"


This one made me smile. If people have a "right" to food money - tell me, does that mean one human being who doesn't work has the "right" to the fruits of the labors of one who does? Tell me, where does that particular right come from? Doesn't the "right" to food money carry with it a responsibility to work for that money? Or are you saying that anyone that does produce something is fair game for anyone that doesn't?

And if a society decides to tax people who are working, to provide temporary assistance to those caught in a bad spot, don't you think the ones being taxed have at least some interest in making sure they are paying to support those caught in a bad spot, and not simply supporting people who don't feel like working? Or are you implying that anyone, simply because they want it, has the right to get "food money", and should just have it given to them, with no questions asked?

Money doesn't grow on trees - if you want to give it to someone, you have to first take it from someone.
posted by MidasMulligan at 7:41 AM on August 30, 2002


Talk to Joe Strummer, my liege. Not much fun at parties, are you?
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:07 AM on August 30, 2002


The most telling part of the story, I thought, is the last graph: "Sixty-three percent rated the job the American educational system does in teaching students about First Amendment freedoms as either "fair" or "poor."" Are any of these the same people who claim to know enough about the First Am. to say it's overreaching?
posted by risenc at 8:07 AM on August 30, 2002


Ignorance is dangerous; education, salvation.
posted by rushmc at 8:35 AM on August 30, 2002


You're right, midas...we all want your money, and we don't want to work for it. You're carrying us all on your back. I don't know how you do it. In the meantime, there are mega-corps paying zero taxes, and corporate welfare gives an entirely new meaning to 'public assistance.' Your lack of perspective has served them well, and will continue to do so, as you argue over a pittance while a fortune is being squandered.

Maybe it's just enough to say that there's no reason for someone to go without food in a country this wealthy.

W/r/t the first amendment, I kind of think of it like this: Many people hate lawyers, think they're the scum of the earth, that there are too many lawsuits, etc., but the second you feel you've been wronged and want to take action, you're going to hire the most cut-throat bastard you can find to get you what you want. (Kinda like how midas, Zeus forbid, on encountering some horrible tragedy that wipes him out completely, might be a little more than grateful for any system that will offer a bite or two.)
posted by troybob at 8:38 AM on August 30, 2002


we truly are a nation of idiots.
posted by mcsweetie at 9:09 AM on August 30, 2002


Mr. Troybob, I don't think Mr. Midas was argueing about the validity of assisted wellfare, (well, he might have, I'm not sure) I think he was only pointing out that there really isn't a 'right' to it.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 9:14 AM on August 30, 2002


Those less likely to support newspaper rights included people without a college education, Republicans, and evangelicals, the survey found.

Fascinating.
posted by D at 9:15 AM on August 30, 2002


Talk to Joe Strummer, my liege. Not much fun at parties, are you?

Probably wouldn't be much fun at the parties you go to. But then again, you probably wouldn't exactly be a hit at the ones I attend either.
posted by MidasMulligan at 9:15 AM on August 30, 2002


Did stavrochicken actually comment on Free Speech by quoting the ENTIRE lyric of a Clash song? Blatant copyright violation! The RIAA is going to be on us like ugly on an ape! Don't expect to be treated differently by the copyright gestapo just because it's the Clash... now that their songs are showing up in commercials... (What product do you think they'll pitch using "know Your Rights?")

Anyway, the only response I have is this quote from the last 45 seconds of the Tubes' "What Do You Want From Life?"
Well, you can't have that, but if you're an American citizen you are entitled to:
a heated kidney shaped pool,
a microwave oven--don't watch the food cook,
a Dyna-Gym--I'll personally demonstrate it in the privacy of your own home,
a king-size Titanic unsinkable Molly Brown waterbed with polybendum,
a foolproof plan and an airtight alibi,
real simulated Indian jewelry,
a Gucci shoetree,
a year's supply of antibiotics,
a personally autographed picture of Randy Mantooth
and Bob Dylan's new unlisted phone number,
a beautifully restored 3rd Reich swizzle stick,
Rosemary's baby,
a dream date in kneepads with Paul Williams,
a new Matador, a new mastodon,
a Maverick, a Mustang, a Montego,
a Merc Montclair, a Mark IV, a meteor,
a Mercedes, an MG, or a Malibu,
a Mort Moriarty, a Maserati, a Mac truck,
a Mazda, a new Monza, or a moped,
a Winnebago--Hell, a herd of Winnebago's we're giving 'em away,
or how about a McCulloch chainsaw,
a Las Vegas wedding,
a Mexican divorce,
a solid gold Kama Sutra coffee pot,
or a baby's arm holding an apple?

posted by wendell at 9:15 AM on August 30, 2002


Almost half also said the media has been too aggressive in asking the government questions about the war on terrorism.

*sigh* - Yes, let's all take a moment and feel bad for the poor people running our government. Having to answer all those nasty questions. If this were a democracy we'd need to know what they were doing...but really the media are just being pests...
posted by ruggles at 9:21 AM on August 30, 2002


<brockman>I for one welcome our new fascist overlords ... <\brockman>
posted by RavinDave at 9:38 AM on August 30, 2002


You're right, midas...we all want your money, and we don't want to work for it. You're carrying us all on your back. I don't know how you do it. In the meantime, there are mega-corps paying zero taxes, and corporate welfare gives an entirely new meaning to 'public assistance.' Your lack of perspective has served them well, and will continue to do so, as you argue over a pittance while a fortune is being squandered.

Lots of generalities here, and the fairly standard response to anyone that dares question a welfare state, but it conveniently ignores the issue. For anyone to be given something means someone has to produce the thing being given. Anyone that says everyone has a "right" to food is essentially saying that everyone has the right to the work of the farmers who produce it, the processors that turn it into it's multitude of forms, the truckers that transport it, and the (horrors) capitalists that take risks and organize the companies that accomplish all of this.

We are, I believe, all born with rights and responsibilities. Every animal on earth is born needing to expend energy to feed itself - i.e., to work for a living. Human civilizations have formalized that into economies that permit specialization, and produce considerable amounts of excess above and beyond subsistance levels for many people ... and this also means that when we go through hard times as a result of the particular economic system we are in, society judges it as a good to transfer money from those that are working to those that aren't.

This, however, is an act of compassion, and a gift - no one has the "right" to sit on their ass and simply demand to be supported by anyone else with no questions asked, and call society "selfish" when it doesn't feel like doing so. I certainly do want my country to have a safety net - and gladly pay taxes to provide it. What I was struck by in the original post was the notion that it is somehow wrong, or "humiliating" for society to even ask the basic questions that getting public assistance requires ... i.e., proof that one is unemployed or otherwise in need, and proof that one is attempting to change that condition.

Humans have a "right" to expend energy to feed themselves. They don't have the right to demand that someone else expend energy to feed them. And the question of whether some lives in a society at bare subsistance levels, or a society that produces huge excesses doesn't alter that.
posted by MidasMulligan at 9:50 AM on August 30, 2002


midas: What on Earth are you so hung about today? There is absolutely nothing in the Constitution about "responsibilities." Why? That's a pretty subjective thing (Sedition v. being a good citizen and crticizing the government, etc. What wins in the end? The right to express yourself, regardless of the reasons for doing so.) Sure, it meant something to the Founding Fathers and still does to ethical individuals. But it's a hard line for everyone to walk. Does capitalism have any responsibilities too?

Meantime, does that fact bear any relation to this story at all? No. Unless you realize that most publications are capitalist enterprises? I dunno. Your posts sound like a lot of contrarian blather to me. (Also, the Clash song's "right to food money" bit could be seen as a statement about the ridiculousness of the UK welfare system, or a statement about "Dilbert" like stupidity in workplaces, drug testing, etc. either one. Depends on how you take it, where you're coming from. Either way, it's a song, y'know? You expect philosophical perfection in a song?)
posted by raysmj at 10:15 AM on August 30, 2002


Midas was responding to critique by troybob about the legitimacy of the right to public welfare assistance.

I have to say I agree with what he has said. As a member of a family of ten, our family often struggled with finances and other things like that. We had to sign up for food stamps. We had to sign on for welfare. I'm glad it was there for us. Eventually my family got to a point where they were above water, and went self-sufficiant. I think society should have a safety net; sometimes things just don't work out right and people need to bounce back up.

But I don't think people have a right to food money, not in the same way that they have a right to free speech. Exercising your speech right doesn't cost anyone anything (even if it sometimes peevs some people off), but money comes from somewhere. I think that as a tax supported state gift, the state should be able to ask questions and help people plan how to get back on their feet. I don't want the process to be uncomfortable, but it does have to be thorough.

And I do think that many of the people on welfare are legitimately there. I don't believe most people cheat the system or think "I'll never work again! Hahahah" People want to work. They want to support themselves and their families. I don't think its shameful to ask for help if you need it, but I do think its shameful to be content to be a financial burdern to most people. But, as said, I don't think most people are like this. Yet, it is asking for help from the govn't. It's not a right, it's a service.

Well, that tangent went on for long enough. Back to free speech!!
posted by Lord Chancellor at 10:33 AM on August 30, 2002


Maybe we should go put a big platform out on the sea and live there. We could call it Sealand. Oh wait...its been done.

The general population is dumb-its no surprise to me. Very few people are educated and discussing things in a rational manner.

People here are like-minded intelligent people who have created a forum to debate and discuss. Dumb people don't come to this forum. Hell, dumb people don't come to any forum and they make up the majority of the population.

The real question is what actions are we taking?
posted by Yossarian at 10:38 AM on August 30, 2002


Lord Chancellor: Get off it! I was asking what it had to do with the thread, and maybe if he was overreacting to a song. What's the context of the song besides? Do people not have the right to the dole in certain countries? Yes. Consider that, then the cynical little statement that comes afterward. Otherwise, I'm thinking the Clash is seeing the right to work as a basic human one (and you are guaranteed the right to be paid in money for it - a right only guaranteed by law in most industrialized country), only that you might get unjustly humiliated in the process.
posted by raysmj at 10:45 AM on August 30, 2002


I might concede some of your points.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 10:46 AM on August 30, 2002


The only way to keep the terrorists from destroying our freedom is to destroy it first ourselves. Makes perfect sense!
posted by glenwood at 11:06 AM on August 30, 2002


Every animal on earth is born needing to expend energy to feed itself - i.e., to work for a living.

Yes, but we live in a society with a relatively recent historical shift from working to feed oneself to working for wages to feed oneself. There's a huge difference. You make this statement following your description of the capitalist assembly line as if it were all part of a natural process. We all have a survival instinct, but we have gradually become more isolated from the means for survival; I'd bet if the system were to collapse, those you criticize would be in a better position to get by than you are.

I think one problem is reflected in your language, which betrays a false premise. Your characterization of people who "to sit on their ass and simply demand to be supported" wasn't especially true when it came into vogue in the 80s, and it's still an exaggeration today. That fact is that no system can be created that will meet the needs of all its members, and given that much of our society benefits from the system, a system that is set up to maintain the status quo, we should enjoy the responsibility of supporting those who have not been able to successfully operate within it. If someone simply refuses to operate within the system to support himself, I would argue that society has already failed that person in other ways; given the additional stigma and condemnation by the rest of society for those who seek help, I think you overstate not only the number of people on public assistance, but also their level of comfort and luxury within the system. And there have been movements to try to help people help themselves, rather than providing food or money, but those end up being criticized in the same way, still considered 'entitlement' programs.

In the real world, business tries to extract as much labor from someone for as little cost as possible; the decline in real wages over the past 30 years indicates they're getting more efficient. Most people you seem to characterize as lazy are indeed working hard to get by, and simply cannot meet their needs with what they have. What baffles me is that, betting that there's not a single desire you have that has gone unfilfilled on the basis of society's support for our poorest, besides the desire to claim moral superiority based on these socioeconomic factors, or the more common irrational fear that somebody else will get a bigger piece of cake than you do, why get so upset about it?
posted by troybob at 11:13 AM on August 30, 2002


But if politicians did away with the First Amendment, how would they fend off calls for campaign finance reform?

(Semi-joking aside after reading the thread: So if a homeless person was a registered voter and wanted to see his representative at a $1000 per-plate function, would a demand for free cash be considered undeserved "food money" or part and parcel of his inherent right to petition? I'm all confused.)
posted by tyro urge at 12:40 PM on August 30, 2002


I'm reminded of another song, which refers to the U.S. as "the land of the free and the home of the brave." Perhaps it's time to change that line. How about "the land of the safe and the home of the tame." That seems more appropriate these days.
posted by homunculus at 1:21 PM on August 30, 2002


« Older   |   Is this the big one? Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments