“Bridging the Divide”

Last week at the University of Delaware, former Vice President Joe Biden and Governor John Kasich (R-OH) took part in event “Bridging the Divide” designed to find solutions to the current acrimonious partisan divide of Washington D.C. In a Q&A session following their conversation Vice President Biden was asked about the topic of respecting opposing viewpoints, his response; “You know, it’s interesting — when I was coming up through college and graduate school free speech was the big issue but it was the opposite. […] The First Amendment is one of the defining features of who we are in the Bill of Rights. And to shut it down in the name of what is appropriate is simply wrong. It’s wrong.”

Vice President Biden’s answer is a reminder of the importance of the free speech to political debate in the US today. It is also heartening to hear a ringing endorsement of free expression from such a prominent leader in the Democratic Party, especially considering a recent poll from UC Berkeley found that 53% of California Democrats would support restrictions of the rights of alleged “hate groups” to demonstrate. However, this should not be surprising considering Vice President Biden holds an 80% lifetime rating from the ACLU, a noted proponent of free speech. Other Democrats have recently expressed their support for free speech, such as Senator Bernie Sanders (I/D-VT) who stated “people have a right to give their two cents’ worth, give a speech, without fear of violence and intimidation.” This was a rebuke of former Governor Howard Dean demonstrably false tweet “Hate speech is not protected by the first amendment.”

Less positive was Governor Kasich’s response that he would not “let one of these hate speech speakers come.” Whether Governor Kasich’s assertion was merely naïve or politically motivated, it demonstrates a fundamental flawed understanding of the freedoms guaranteed under the First Amendment. The rights of all Americans to freely express themselves has showed itself time and time again as crucial to health of our democracy.