David R. Henderson  

Free Speech for Them but Not for Us

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Does Hillary Clinton Understand Irony?

On Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a speech at George Washington University in which she criticized foreign governments for cracking down on freedom of speech. In her audience was a retired CIA official, Ray McGovern, who quietly turned his back on her in protest of her pro-war actions. He didn't disrupt her speech. Right while Clinton was touting free speech and look at the back of the small room and could, presumably, see McGovern, goons roughed up McGovern and hauled him away. Did Hillary Clinton protest? No. She didn't even miss a beat. Nor, sadly, did anyone in her audience speak out. (See here for the story and here for the short video.)


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COMMENTS (21 to date)
Peter Mazsa writes:

Well at least she is self-consistent:)

You have no doubt heard that the government of the United States has changed its stance on the freedom of the web since the well-known information network, http://wikileaks.org , helped people discover new facts and call for more accountability.

The US government’s previous stance, which was enumerated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a landmark speech about internet freedom on 21 January 2010, sounded something like this: “Even in authoritarian countries, information networks are helping people discover new facts and making governments more accountable.” http://amexrap.org/fal/dear-mr-hu-jintao

rapscallion writes:

I have zero ideological motivation to defend Clinton, but I think this criticism of her is off base for several reasons:

i) How is she supposed to have detailed knowledge of what's happening in the audience? The lights are on her, not them. She might not have even seen him turn his back as she was scanning back and forth. As well, she has to assume that security has better knowledge than she does. For all she knew at the time, he could have been flashing weapon. Is she supposed to stop the speech and lead an inquiry into the matter right then and there?

ii) The video doesn't show, but he may have been standing up when everyone else was sitting down. Well, first of all, they obviously can't let everyone do that, so they would have at least had to ask him to sit. Second of all, a guy standing that far away from Clinton while everyone else is sitting should ring a whole bunch of security alarm bells. Removing him right then and there was not obviously a wrong decision, IMHO.

Most of the time I agree with the people criticizing cops and bodyguards, but it's not clear to me that anyone did anything wrong here, and I don't think it's reasonable to think Clinton should have acted differently.

David R. Henderson writes:

@rapscallion,
Good points. And so the next step is to find out from people who were there what happened and also find out if she cared enough to inquire.

Old Whig writes:

@rapscalllion,

Read the link from the AntiWar.com blog and the hypocrisy becomes even greater:

"As bad as Donald Rumsfeld was, he let me speak. He let me speak and engaged me in dialog.”

“At the same [Rumsfeld] speech, there was a courageous guy who stood with his back to Rumsfeld the entire speech. They left him completely alone and he walked out at the end, unbothered. Four years later, things have changed"

If Donald Rumsfeld's security detail let that guy stand with his back alone it says something about Hillary Clinton's detail.

CBBB writes:

Well this makes sense - the Obama administration has cemented in place a process that's been going on for years now.
Free speech is fine but it must not contradict the administration's Prime Directive: "American Political Elites must always and everywhere be given respect, obedience, and deference".

Tomato Addict writes:

This might actually be the rules. When President Bush (W) visited my workplace, those who were in the small room where he gave his speech were instructed that they had to remain seated until after the President had finished the speech and left the room. I wasn't among those in that room, but I did see the letter of instruction give to all those invited. I agree it is Draconian, but the Secret Service is picky about such things. Especially since a certain shoe incident. MORE especially since the shooting in Tucsan.

Bob Murphy writes:

I get what you're saying David, and I would personally be uncomfortable if security did that to somebody at one of my talks, but I also think we need to be careful in defining property rights.

For example, a standard point that "our side" often has to make is that it's not censorship if a newspaper neglects to publish your Letter to the Editor.

Things are a lot more complicated in this case, but you can at least see my concern, I hope. It's not like Clinton shut down a website that was criticizing her speech.

Don Boudreaux writes:

@rapscallion and others: I'm sure that I've given probably only 1/100th the number of public talks that Hillary Clinton has delivered, but I've given a fair number of them, many with harsh bright lights glaring at me. I cannot imagine continuing to speak as smoothly as Clinton did if someone in the audience was being hauled away as that protester was hauled away.

Perhaps this fact speaks poorly of me - or testifies to Ms. Clinton's fine experience in being in, and in dealing with, a limelight of the sort that most of us, including myself, will never experience. But I cannot watch that video without seeing lines delivered simply by a bloodless, souless actress.

pfletch writes:

I've watched the video about 4 times now -- well, the one from CNN twice, and the ones from PBS and Fox once each. I don't think it's so much that her eyes are soulless as there is no mark of life on her face. I fear she's gone the botox route.

That said, the room doesn't seem to be huge and, as McGovern was being rousted, he did call out, "So this is America?" twice. She kept on talking when people in the 2nd and 3rd rows turned to see what was happening.

There is nothing about it in WaPo, NYT, nor Al Jazeera. Thank heavens for YouTube, TruthDig, HufPo, etc.

Daniel Kuehn writes:

I have to agree with at least some of the hesitation of rapscallion and Bob Murphy, although of course it's really hard to know what to think if you weren't there.

In the video provided in one of the links, the guy appears to be right in front of Clinton, in the third row of seats. It seems plausible he was blocking cameras and lines of sight. The GW studio is often used for filming TV broadcasts. If that's what this was (rather than just a speech at a university), then of course they're going to remove him.

You can also see in the video that the guards are wearing GW university police badges. As Bob says - private security on a private university campus. I hope for his sake he's exaggerating his injuries, but aside from those basic human decency concerns, I think we have to be careful about how much we assume on this.

Bob Sylvester writes:

Big government in the hands of a minority (in this case leftists) always relies on the police and force to keep things quiet. The mixture of the state and minority governance results in free speech for the minority in power and a limit on speech for those who do not abide by the state's script.

Daublin writes:

If you watch the video, there's no way she didn't notice. The entire audience turned around to watch him being drug out. For Hillary not to notice, she would have had to overlook the whole audience rustling around and looking away from her.

She just thought it was more important to be smooth for the camera. The cameraman had a different idea.

Tomato Addict writes:

I think some people are seeing what they want to see. What I see is this: If you misbehave at an event with tight Secret Service security, both you AND your right to free speech are going to suffer consequences at the hands of muscular men with NO sense of humor.

Tomato Addict writes:

I think some people are seeing what they want to see. What I see is this: If you misbehave at an event with tight Secret Service security, both you AND your right to free speech are going to suffer consequences at the hands of muscular men with NO sense of humor.

I have to agree with Rapscallion in his point (ii) on this one. You can't allow everyone to do what this man did. You can't allow anyone to do what this man did.

I don't have a right to stand up and turn my back to a movie that I don't like, or when my least favorite actor appears on screen. I'm on the movie theatre's turf.
I don't have the right to disrupt events that I don't like.
I don't have the right to use profanity on your website, or to post spam.
I do, however, have the right to go to the property of anyone else who will allow me to do so, and criticize the movie, protest against the event, use profanity, or post online rants about Hillary Clinton.

Bob Sylvester writes:

Question: How is standing silently in place with your back turned to the speaker "misbehavior?"

This is clearly speech. I smart leader in a free society would or should know this is simply speech and not only protected what should be protected, but what a leader in a free society ought to want to protect.

Now if the individual who was ushered out entered with a prohibition imposed on his behavior he should have, free speech of not, declined to be a prop, then the issue becomes whether of not he waived his right to engage in symbolic speech. Different situation then.

ThomasL writes:

The larger irony is Mrs Clinton's, and the administration's, opposition to Citizens United on the one hand and speeches such as this one on the other.

ThomasL writes:

Well, that, and talking about Yemen shutting down cellular and Internet access in a negative light, while having the FCC work a power grab to regulate the Internet here, and trying to pass an Internet "kill switch" bill to boot. The ironies here are many...

Bob Murphy writes:

Eh the more I read from those pushing the analogy, the less convinced I become. Are you guys saying that anytime a public official gives a talk somewhere, any citizen can get up and start contradicting the things the public official is saying--without any reprisal, even from the private owners of the venue?

I mean, if you're making this a matter of "free speech," then the fact that he was being silent is irrelevant. The Constitution doesn't protect silent protests only. If the guy had pulled out a bullhorn and started chanting, "Why did your husband bomb an aspirin factory?!" would you think his rights were violated if they dragged him out of the room?

If not, then I think you don't have a leg to stand on, unless you are just making a point about Hillary Clinton's personal values. (That may have been all David was originally saying in his post.)

Jim Swift writes:

I do believe that is where they used to host "Crossfire"

Bob Sylvester writes:

Actually the form of the speech (silent v. audible for example) along with the content enter into the question of protected speech very directly.

A silent act is least likely to be unprotected in a public space than speech which interferes with another's free speech. Likewise words that incite to violence or advocate violence are outside the zone of protection.

A man standing silently in opposition in a public space is a protected event all things being equal. In a private space the question requires knowing what the conditions of admittance were.

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