“You lie!”, shouts Rep. Joe Wilson from the House of Representatives audience as President Barack Obama lectures about his Health Care reform. This sets a terrible precedent for political presentations because it now becomes an accepted practice for someone in the audience to challenge the veracity of what is being proclaimed by some politician, even one so prestigious as the President of the United States.
It may soon become common practice that some ordinary citizen may shout down a public speaker. They will usually be dealt with by guards but what may soon happen is that it becomes the accepted practice for some second person to pipe up and make an identical boisterous proclamation. Now, when the authorities try and muzzle this second person there may arise a third one and so on, ad infinitum. If there was some previous agreement with a few people who intentionally separated themselves to distant parts of the audience, it would become very difficult for a few guards to control the situation.
It is possible perhaps even probable in some venues that several previously uninvolved members of the audience would side with the challenger to the authority of the speaker and start chanting the very words that the disruptive person had shouted. It would be horrible for the speaker to have a large number of the audience chanting rhythmically, “Liar, liar, pants on fire.“ What alternative would the speaker have but to relinquish the microphone and walk off stage? That would be a disaster for any speaker but if it were a major politician who was being covered by the media it would be a mega-disaster. Imagine what would be the world’s response to seeing a major American politician being forced to walk away from a podium or alternatively members of his audience being physically removed. And it would be seen, because nowadays it doesn’t have to be videotaped and vetted by a major news organization to find its way into the eyes and ears of the world. Anyone with a modern cell phone might have the event on-line and before the world in almost in real time.
There then arises the question of electronically shutting down an auditorium where a major politician is speaking to prevent such an offensive event from becoming public. Would that be considered a suppression of free speech? It is a public event and so there is no question of violating the speaker’s privacy. I am enthusiastic about free speech and yet when a speaker is presenting a complex idea to a voluntary audience it is a violation of his right of free speech for him to be shouted down.
The comment, “You lie!”, may be a turning point in American politics.