New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo
Associated Press/Photo by John Minchillo
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Dangerous political speech


Political leaders do a lot of talking—as part of their job, to get or keep their job, and for some at the expense of their job. Talk long enough and you will say something ill advised. Proverbs 13:3 tells us, “Whoever guards his mouth guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.” Machiavelli himself couldn’t have said it better. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., learned this the hard way by his indiscreet remarks on abortion during his failed 2012 U.S. Senate bid. President Obama caused great upset when he interrupted himself with “You didn’t build that.” Most recently, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo caused alarm when he rattled on about the unelectability of conservative GOP political candidates:

“Are they these extreme conservatives who are right-to-life, pro-assault-weapon, anti-gay? … Because if that’s who they are … they have no place in the state of New York, because that’s not who New Yorkers are.”

Our elected leaders are in an awkward position. While servants of the whole public, they must seek reelection, so (at best) they are torn between statesmanship and partisanship in their public pronouncements. The governor here fell deep into the partisan pit.

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As stewards of public power, these political figures have the staggering authority to kill, imprison, despoil, and turn people’s lives one way or the other. So people react sharply to careless statements, and at times overreact. Partisans take words out of context and use them as kindling to burn the speaker at a political stake. But others hear dangerous talk, and they fear.

Fear is justified. Consider how quickly we go from “national conversation” on a thorny issue to “you will be hunted down and cast out” when the “progressive” side wins, as Cuomo’s remarks seemed to imply.

Any hint of state retribution for politically incorrect views comes in a cultural context of vicious incivility on the left. The media treated Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson like an advocate of death camps for undesirable elements because he expressed at the very least a biblically and rationally plausible moral opinion regarding homosexual relations.

McCarthyite investigations of insensitivity infractions are commonplace on university campuses. The universities of today train the power elite of tomorrow. When these campus radicals come to power, the infrastructure will be in place to enforce totalitarian revenge for disagreement. In our day, we have seen empowered leftists use the chilling might of the IRS to threaten people they consider politically dangerous to the country with criminal prosecution.

Consider what personal invasions we allow today to fight threats from abroad against the good life at home. It is a small step from there to allowing incursions against liberty to secure us against “haters” who “have no place” here. I find it easy to believe that within 10 years the NSA data vaults will be used to help prosecute charges of “hate crime” against people with unsanctioned opinions on abortion, same-sex marriage, or whatever’s next. President Obama’s Homeland Security Department has designated abortion opponents as terrorist threats since 2009.

Which is easier, for political leaders to say fewer scary things or to give us fewer reasons to be scared?

D.C. Innes
D.C. Innes

D.C. is associate professor of politics at The King's College in New York City and co-author of Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (Russell Media). Follow D.C. on Twitter @DCInnes1.


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