Jill Lepore’s Thoughts on Political Speech


Earlier this month,Jill Lepore wrote an op-ed in the New York Times asking the question “What Thomas Jefferson Would Say”. The opening question is directed at political speech and does it incite political violence.

The question itself is good in that it should make us all stop and think about our actions regarding any one person or persons speaking. The rest of the opening statement though bothers me because it immediately makes a subtle assumption that it is becoming the norm for violence to follow political speech, and due to that assumption, we need to speak with care. If not read carefully, a person could come away with a feeling of alarm, of needing to watch their every word. This is not necessarily what Thomas Jefferson would want.

It is subtle innuendos, in comments such as this, that seem to be picked up by either the media or public figures and used as a tool to further one agenda or another. As the citizenry becomes more informed, we all have to be careful of our speech, to ensure as much as possible, that we do not speak with innuendos. I realize that innuendos are going to happen simply because we are human but as we speak and write more, let’s learn to be more attentive to not only what we say and how we say it, but what we don’t say.

Jill asks the question that “…should not our leaders political speech elevate instead of being incendiary?” That would be nice but our leaders have used incendiary speech since this country was founded. Expecting any type of change would be simplistic at best, ridiculous at worst. As far as our leaders speech elevating, I don’t want that kind of speech. What I do want, from our leaders, is truth in their speech to me. That is simplistic also, but that would mean more to me than patronizing, elevating speech.

What happened in Tucson did not happen because of incendiary political speech. It happened because one person, with a history of mental problems, went off the deep end. The minute we start blaming others speech on actions such as this, we begin the decent down that slippery slope of censorship. Do not be so quick to blame others for one persons action.

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