September 29th, 2006
|12:19 pm - Where are the firebrands?|
I was reminded today of the famous speech by Patrick Henry. You know the one. It ends:
Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!And the thought it brought to my mind is, where are the patriots? Not those that wrap themselves in flags, spread fear to the populace and strive for nothing more than to increase their own power while maintaining the status quo; they are no patriots. I long for the firebrands, those who can inflame a populace with their words but choose to do so in the cause of greater good for all people. Have we had any since MLK was killed?
My city has been chosen to host the Republican national convention in 2008. I look forward to doing some freeway blogging before and during. I'm also contemplating walking around downtown St. Paul with a sandwich board sign reading "Minnesota is a free speech zone" b/w "America is a free speech zone." Though I'm also thinking that the good Mr. Henry's quote might make a good sign too.
Current Mood: determined
Oh, we've got people who try to inflame the public against the present government; but they seem to get their fifteen minutes of attention (for fairly loose values of "fifteen minutes") and then they seem to go away, or become niche firebrands -- of interest only to folks of fairly narrow interests. (Remember Tom Hayden or, more recently, Wendy Wilde?)
Remember, though, what what passes for firebrands are advocating, by and large: voting for an opposition party -- not rebellion, revolution, or even MLK/Gandhi-style civil disobedience.
Which, IMHO, isn't the sort of action that matches the rhetorical excesses that I seem to hear a lot (not pointing at present company). Oh, granted, there are some exceptions -- when Steve Brust, say, says that he's against gun control because guns will be necessary come the revolution, he's talking about the sort of revolution that leaves blood flowing in the streets and capitalist oppressors (although probably not their families, history aside; Steve's a gentle guy) hanging from lampposts, even if they gotta build new lampposts. Ask him, sometime; he'll talk about how bad things got under Stalin, but I doubt he'll flinch at what he sees as the necessity of what Lenin and Trotsky did.
All in all, in the US, historically it isn't the firebrands who were as important as the implementers -- John Adams and Jefferson and the Federalists rather than Patrick Henry, Sam Adams and Tom Paine; Thurgood Marshall (before he got onto the Supreme Court; if you want to see what the smarter activists in favor of SSM and 2A rights are doing, it's right out of the Ink Fund playbook) and that old racist southern boy, LBJ, rather than MLK. (Which is just as well -- the French had their firebrands, but not their implementers, and while we got first the Articles of Confederation and later the Constitution, they got the guillotine and Madame Lafarge.)
But, then again, it's important to understand that when Patrick Henry said, "give me liberty or give me death," he, well, meant it, and was pretty much going to get one or the other. (Wikipedia reminds me that the amnesty offered by -- and refused from -- Gage specifically exempted him and John Hancock; by the time it got to Franklin talking about hanging together or separately, it was not a figure of speech.)
I think that Keith Olbermann might be able to say that with a straight face, but that's just because he's a good actor. He's not going to declare himself an enemy combatant and attempt to force the government to either back down or put him in Gitmo, after all; he's just going to use his post at MSNBC and his rhetorical flourishes to encourage Democratic turnout.
It's your call, but I think there's been enough rhetorical excess in the past decade; if you don't really mean "give me liberty or give me death," I'd recommend not saying it -- it degrades the discussion.