This past Wednesday, the Johns Hopkins Foreign Affairs Symposium kicked off their Spring 2014 series of speakers by hosting Governor Martin O’Malley, current two-time governor of Maryland, former mayor of Baltimore City, national political figure, and potential future presidential candidate. O’Malley addressed the overall FAS topic of “Idealism vs. Realism” by discussing an environmentally-informed economic vision for the future of the nation. After his speech, the Governor accepted several questions from the audience in an extended Q&A segment. It was during this period that the LaRouche PAC made its appearance.
The LaRouche PAC is a part of a fringe political movement based on and founded by Lyndon LaRouche, a controversial dissident political activist and writer. Many of the LaRouche ideas are very unorthodox, including opposition to the modern “British Empire,” destroying Wall Street, stopping imminent thermonuclear extinction, impeaching Obama, and preventing the collapse of the “trans-Atlantic region” economy. There were materials passed out before the speech that are illuminating, but surprisingly poorly written, as if unedited.
This article won’t go into the specifics of LaRouche’s personal history or the details about his political theory (please do more research if you’re curious: I am confident that you will come to the conclusion that LaRouche is probably crazy, and that his opinions and beliefs are fanatical, impossible, lunatic, dangerous and radical). But my point in writing this article is to address how we, as sane and analytical people (especially as Hopkins students), should react to this type of misguided pontification. Unfortunately, LaRouche PAC is just one example of a plethora of radical groups with distorted worldviews. And just because an idea is ridiculous doesn’t mean it should be ridiculed in a way that is disrespectful to the speaker.
When a member of LaRouche PAC came up to ask Governor Martin O’Malley to ask about Obama’s impeachment, the collapse of the world economy, and the nuclear war allegedly coming within the week, he was jeered, heckled and snickered at by the crowd of Hopkins students, professors, and community members. Although what he said was laughable, derision was not the appropriate response. An American was using his freedom of speech to put forth his honest beliefs. Free speech is the essence of democracy, and the responsibility to protect free speech and democracy lies in the hands of the “demos:” the people. This right is in our hands, and for it to flourish, people must be unafraid to speak their minds. Not only this, but other people must be willing to listen, even to ideas and opinions that we think are ridiculous or downright incorrect.
I pause to clarify that free speech is different than hate speech. The differences between the two are not always clear and definitions are not always easily applicable to real situations, but everyone should agree that we must protect one while preventing the other. There are obvious examples of hate speech — racism, libel, etc. There is a vast legal treatment of this topic based on constitutional law that I would urge those interested to research. Being informed is always a good thing, since these distinctions and this guardianship over types speech also lie in the hands of the people.
But this man’s question, however silly, was not hateful. Thankfully, Governor O’Malley listened to the question with a straight, serious face amid the noise. When the LaRouche PAC representative finished asking if the Governor would take action along the lines of LaRouche ideas, O’Malley simply responded “No,” and addressed some of the elements of the position he felt were significant, like reasonable financial reform.
The important takeaway from O’Malley’s reaction is that we must be respectful to others who express themselves. This is a universal precept that we all strive to apply to religious freedoms, sexual orientation, race, politics, and any subject where different opinions exist. However, here at Hopkins we must strive to embody this precept as an example to others, not struggle with it. A university is most important when it acts as a focal point for discussion and the sharing of opinions.
Remember, respecting someone’s views in no way requires one to accept them. One need not consider someone’s opinion to be valid to recognize their right to have that opinion. We should work within the confines of acceptable and appropriate methods to work against crazy ideas, rather than simply lampoon the people who express them. It is more effective to engage in rational discussion than to belittle and insult.
Nathan Bick is a freshman majoring in Economics from Washington, D.C. He is an Opinions Staff Writer for the News-Letter.