When Clark Gable followed that line with , “I don’t give a damn.” there was an audible gasp in the theater. It was 1939 and folks just didn’t say such things in mixed company in public. Men (and women) might speak that way in the privacy and company of other members of the same sex, but never in front of a movie audience!
Surely people knew the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution guaranteed freedom of speech, but there had to be a limit! Hollywood had overstepped the boundaries. At least, that’s what the Overton Window dictated back then.
Glenn Beck recently published a book using the “Overton Window” as its title. I’ve read the book and the title is totally appropriate. While the book doesn’t match up to “The DaVinci Code” as suspense thriller fiction novels go, it does give some people reason to stop and think about where our government is leading us.
Before you jump to conclusions and decide to stop reading, let me emphasize that I am against all professional politicians. I have no preference to party affiliations. In fact, I’d be pleased as punch if both the Republican and Democrat parties were totally replaced by parties that represent their constituents and not the special interest groups that finance the political campaigns.
The Overton Window – before Glenn Beck used the name – was used to describe what the general public would accept on a continuum between extremes. The example I’m using today is based on “freedom of speech.”
On the one extreme, people can say whatever they want about whatever subject they choose whenever and wherever they are. On the other end of the spectrum, people can only say what the Government deems as appropriate. The Overton Window illustrates what – along that spectrum – is acceptable to the people.
As a child, there were very strict rules regarding freedom of speech. For instance, it was against the law (I could be wrong on this) to shout “FIRE!” in a crowded theater if no fire existed. The unwritten laws forbade the use of foul language in the presence of members of the opposite sex. It was also considered uncouth to swear in the presence of children.
Other than that, people could say just about anything that came to their minds.
Then came political correctness, which was soon followed by an unofficial ban on “hate speech”. That means that when an African American calls me a “honky”, I’m not allowed to retaliate by calling him or her a “Nigger”.
I apologize if that last statement offended anyone. I’m trying to make a point. Hate speech is not specifically defined… beyond the loose parameters that say “If I’m in control and I don’t like what you say, then I will call it ‘Hate speech’ and see to it that you are silenced.
Let’s go back in history for a moment. Evelyn Beatrice Hall once said, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” That quote has been attributed to Voltaire, but Evelyn was the actual quotee. She said it in her attempt to explain the political leanings of Voltaire.
Since I was a child, the Overton Window on Freedom of Speech has moved dramatically. One only needs to watch television to know that what Clark Gable uttered over seventy years ago is mild to what we see and hear today.
But what does the law say? Recently, the US Congress decided to make it illegal for certain groups to produce ads that might influence voters at election time. Of course, unions were exempted from this law. In other words, if the message you wish to send is what the party in power wants people to hear, it is permissible. However, if the party in power does not want voters to hear what you have to say, it is against the law.
Will the public accept this new limit to our Freedom of Speech? If they do, the Overton Window has moved toward the end of the spectrum that says the Government alone can decide what is acceptable speech.
It’s rather appropriate to say, “There goes another right of the people out the window.”