One of my favorite “I-wish-it-was-a-real-speech-by-a-real-politician” movie scenes is from The American President when Michael Douglas aka President Andrew Shepherd finally grows a pair and comes out swinging against his opponents and their smear tactics against him and his girlfriend (Annette Benning). The relevant part of the speech for today’s topic is fairly early on:
America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say, “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.” You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms.
Here’s our opportunity.
I read today where a young man in Colorado was suspended for wearing a t-shirt reading, “Obama, A Terrorist’s Best Friend” to school to “on a day when students were asked to show their patriotism by wearing red, white and blue, according to MyFOXColorado.com.”
As usual in such cases, the school district has tried to hide behind the “disruption of the learning environment” argument, but as usual the argument rings hollow to me. Would they have suspended him for wearing a t-shirt reading “Obama, Inexperienced and Unprepared”? How about a anti-Republican “Lying Liars” t-shirt?
I’m with Andrew Shepherd on such issues; this is one of the things that makes us special as a society, our willingness to give room for a wide, wide spectrum of voices to be heard. Especially in our schools. Even for opinions as offensive to me as this one, espoused by people with whom I have little in common.
PS – The whole Andrew Shepherd speech runs 5 minutes and is well worth watching for a reminder of how far short of stirring rhetoric the current conversation falls (gosh, if only an actor would run for president…wait…didn’t we do that?). And, as a challenge, watch the speech and see if you can detect an echo of it in one of the major speeches delivered in the last month. As I listened to this particular line in the speech in question, I thought, “That sounds like…”