Freedom of Speech vs. Responsibility for Consequences
When he said to the insurgents in Iraq, "Bring it on," or when he told the world that Osama bin Laden was "wanted dead or alive," those were clear messages he now says were misinterpreted. He regrets saying them. He admits making a mistake.
I agree with him. He's far too late and too many lives have been lost as a result of his freedom to say those words....but I agree that it was a mistake to utter them.
I also agree that he had the right to say them.
I know. You're asking, "Archie, how can both those things can be true? How can you say someone has the right to say something but is wrong to have said it?"
I'm glad you asked. Let me try to explain.
Too often in this country we mistake personal freedom for being the limit to our social responsiblity. I would never argue for limits to our freedom of speech, but I will always stand up for using that freedom responsibly. You know, sort of like how some people say that you should be free to have a gun so long as you use it responsibly. It's not a perfect metaphor, but maybe it helps you see my point.
This is not an argument for censorship--telling someone not to say what they honestly want to say is wrong. Trying to get someone to understand why they might not want to say what they are thinking at any given moment is not wrong.
We all take risks in our daily lives. Getting up in the morning is a risk. Taking risks can be a virtue. What matters is knowing what we are risking before we decide to take those risks.
Sometimes, when we don't consider those consequences, our personal risks hurt people's feelings, end friendships, even injure people. Sometimes, as with George Bush's hasty words, the consequences are even more dire. George risked our safety and the lives of our men and women in uniform when he spoke those words.
How many innocent lives were lost because of George Bush's irresponsible rhetoric will never be known, but that lives were lost as a result is impossible to deny. And because he is a leader, millions of Americans followed his example--embracing a similar rhetoric that remains equally dangerous and irresponsible.
Words can be tools or they can be weapons. Whether you are the President of the United States or just another member of a community...My hope is that more people will use their words with responsibility, forethought, and an understanding of the consequences of the risks they take by using them.
I'd like to ask every American to use our words to help build something good in the world instead of using them to inspire us to hurt each other.
Transcript of Bush-Blair News Conference, NPR, May 26, 2006