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More Thuggery, This Time At Georgetown

Via Ambimb, we see that there's been another infantile protest, this time of the Attorney General at Georgetown Law School. This act of staged immaturity consisted of five students in black hoods unveiling a banner with a 'quotation' from Ben Franklin: "Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither."

How cute. The quote's wrong--it omits the words "essential" and "little" in places that fundamentally alter the meaning--but hell, what's a little accuracy among those who seek to save us?[1]

As always, my annoyance at this kind of stage-stealing performance art doesn't spring from partisanship but a violation of comity. Attorney General Gonzales--someone I'm not averse to criticizing--was introduced by Dean Aleinikoff as a guest of the university, and the demonstration made him a very poor host. The five veiled freedom-fighters--yeah, you're a courageous bunch of fellows, aren't you?--were simply rude to those who organized the event. Freeloaders and freeriders upon the effort of others, they're no better than the bore who shouts down better-mannered guests at a dinner table.

Watch the C-SPAN coverage (if you can stand installing RealPlayer). There was no shortage of speech here. Gonzales' address was followed by a university panel organized to discuss the issue. These valiant defenders of free expression did nothing greater than hijack the footlights, content to bask in their reflected relevance.

If academia still recognized some sense of decorum, these students would be expelled. There is no sign that Dean Aleinikoff has done so.

UPDATE: Fixed a formatting error and link in the original post. Also corrected some bluebooking in the footnote below.

[1]: What are they teaching at Georgetown Law School these days? I'll admit that I'm not the best Bluebooker in the world, but shouldn't the banner read something like:

Those who would [sacrifice] liberty [for security] deserve neither. . . .

In his post, Scoplaw explains that the "paraphrase" was used because the true quotation wouldn't fit. I guess indicating the alterations (to be, you know, honest) would have been a lot less effective.


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Comity? Comity? Well, that’s something. With all your hand wringing I thought you were going to say that you were worried we hurt Gonzales's feelings. Scoplaw BTW - Normally I hold blogs to an off-the-cuff grammatical standard, but if you want to critique the formatting of the banner, I thought I'd point out that your argument might be seen as that much more persuasive if you managed to spell both my moniker (Scoplaw) and the Attorney General’s last name (Gonzales) correctly. But, as you say, “what's a little accuracy among those who seek to save us?”
Scoplaw: Noted and corrected on the spelling, which has long been an issue here. There is, however, a large difference between a spelling error or two (which normally doesn't affect an argument at all) and an intentional misquotation. As for Gonzales' feelings, I wouldn't flatter yourself: I can't believe you had that much effect on him.
As an incidental note to my readers, comments on spelling/grammar are always welcome. When I receive them, I usually go back and clean up the post.
Normally, I would agree that a protest for an invited guest would be in poor taste, but I have a feeling the University was asked to host Gonzales in the first place, not the other way around. Besides, he was giving a *political* speech and I think in that case a *political* protest, especially one that did not involve violence or shouting insults at the speaker was perfectly appropriate. If he were invited there by the University, with no prompting, to speak about the law instead of to grandstand for the administration on an issue they are pressing with the public, I might feel differently.
Are you suggesting that the spirit of their (mis)quote is different from the spirit of what Franklin actually said? That what he meant was actually "never sacrifice essential liberty for a little security, but if you're talking a lot of security, or maybe some non-essential liberty, well just go on ahead!"? If not, your complaint just seems mean-spirited.
'The five veiled freedom-fighters--yeah, you're a courageous bunch of fellows, aren't you?--were simply rude to those who organized the event. Freeloaders and freeriders upon the effort of others, they're no better than the bore who shouts down better-mannered guests at a dinner table.' 'Thuggery'? 'Shouting down'? The protestors chose a form of silent dissent that allowed Gonzales to give his speech and engage in interview without disruption. I can't imagine a better-mannered or more dignified form of visible protest. Can you suggest one? Or perhaps your objection is simply to dissent in general? 'yeah, you're a courageous bunch of fellows, aren't you?' In addition to the five veiled protestors (who have not kept their identities a secret), twenty-two unveiled protestors (silently) turned their backs as they spoke. Your jibe about courage is ill-informed. '...but hell, what's a little accuracy among those who seek to save us?'
CardinalSin: Yes, I am suggesting that Franklin's quote implies a great deal more nuance. Popper: While "thuggery" may be a bit exaggerated, it's hardly inaccurate. They showed up in front of someone's stage and pulled the attention of cameras and audience from them. Maybe you don't perceive that as rude and boorish behavior, but I'm sure you'd mind if someone did that to you. The fact that this "protest" combined mime and interpretive dance makes it no less disruptive. A better-mannered form of protest? Stand holding the banner outside, where it doesn't get in the way of the speaker who is a guest of the protestor's university. Of course, that's not going to get one on the evening news, now is it? As for not being anonymous: even Scoplaw hides his own name and deletes it in his comments. The jibe about courage is not "ill-informed." After all, I watched the tape and saw the protest itself. If you consider stage-stealing in which there is no particular form of punishment likely or foreseeable to be "courage," well, that's fine, but I find it fairly tepid.
I'd have to say that "thuggery" is waaaaay over the line. No-one was being beaten up or menaced; no-one's right to speak was abridged. The dictionary defines "thug" as "1 a violent person, esp. a criminal." Does holding up a sign make someong a violent criminal?
Frankenstein: I suppose it depends on what one considers a "right of speech." First Amendment rights? Certainly not. On the other hand, I have this quaint idea that when someone is on stage, he has the 'right' (at least from the view of etiquette) to expect not to be interrupted by a secondary stageshow. While your dictionary definition is, of course, correct, I don't think I'm particularly unique in having used "thug" in a more metaphorical sense.
'Frankenstein: I suppose it depends on whether you define 'right to speak' as 'right not to have someone be quite rude to you in a low-key way.' I do. Of course, you can find whatever you like in your liberal dictionary, but when I use a word it means what I want it to mean, no more and no less.' I *adore* D-list bloggers trying to backpedal on their opinions. Honestly, I could just eat you up. Encore!!
I'm just poking you with a stick here, honestly, but don't you think that 'Franklin's quote implies a great deal more nuance' would be more persuasive as part of an explanation, not a flat contradiction? By the way, sweeting, a phrase does not 'imply' nuance, it must 'possess' it. I do regret the abominably corrupt standard of English among contemporary law students.
Maurice: My, my, my. A "D-list blogger." How terribly clever you must feel.
hm? dear sweet boy, that was about the only part where I *wasn't* trying to be clever. I'm a little startled. Where would you place yourself? Well done on ignoring the rest of my naughty dissent. That'll show me.
Maurice: I don't know what you're billing the time you spend commenting here under, but if I'm in class, you only get one-line responses. I'm sorry if that pricks your sense of self-importance. As for the rest of your "dissent," it's fairly ignorable. Yes, I could write more about the importance of the quote, but CardinalSin is a friend of mine from long ago, and I'm pretty certain he knows the argument I'm referencing. I didn't feel I needed to address it in response to him, but thank you for telling me how to talk to my friends. Your dictionary point is old hat, of course, the kind of tedium that can fill up a comment section. I could go to the OED and pull up obviously non-literal uses of the word, engaging Frankenstein in a war of dictionaries. ("1865 Reader 26 Aug. 225/1 Ecclesiastical thuggery.") Yawn. I could point to undoubtedly A-list bloggers who use the term similarly. And we could get into a long and protracted debate over whether an obviously poetic use of a term somehow constitutes "backpedalling." (Or you could get very snarky and insist that I was making some racist comment about the sign-holders all being Indian.) However, that would all be entirely boring. I write my blog because I rather like most of the people who read it. I'm not particularly concerned where you or anyone else would consider it B-list, C-list, D-list or in the obituary column: if it's beneath you, read elsewhere. Do you fancy actually making an argument, or is that salary you get paid only good for throwing insults?
He's a big boy, he can take it. If everyone feels the way you do, the protests a bust. If some folks change their mind or get interested, it's a winner. If it serves to reaffirm the commitment of some on either side it's a score draw.
And if conservative groups at Georgetown have a hard time getting big name speakers in the future because they can't ensure them a reasonably respectful environment, Martin, how does that come out? I'm actually being serious here: conservative groups have to bear a higher price to bring speakers to campus simply because these protests aren't free speech. They come with added prices in security, as well as discouraging some conservative speakers altogether. If there's one reason the Federalist Society is such a blessing, it's their ability to actually organize these things against some steep odds.
'Do you fancy actually making an argument, or is that salary you get paid only good for throwing insults?' My dear, that's a very spirited little response, and I enthusiastically applaud you. I'm tempted to add this to my feed, but do let me know if I'm upsetting you too much. 'I'm not particularly concerned where you or anyone else would consider it B-list, C-list, D-list or in the obituary column: if it's beneath you, read elsewhere.' I construe that as 'considers himself an undiscovered B-lister' - 'obviously poetic use of a term' oh that is just *adorable*.
I used to have arguments with my younger brother and if I knew I had no substance behind my words, I would refer to him in terms such as "dear sweet boy", "my dear", and "adorable" because they were terms that stirred up anger in him. I outgrew that before I hit the age of sixteen. But hey, Maurice, whatever you feel works for you.

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