About seven years ago, the television character Alan Shore of Boston Legal delivered a closing argument that stirred many patriotic souls. Given the news this week (and the fact that some things haven’t changed at all since then), the argument is worth revisiting. I had hoped to find a video of it on YouTube, but the only one I could find had been edited in a way that is distracting. Fortunately, one kind person put together a transcript. Here it is:
When the weapons of mass destruction thing turned out not to be true, I expected the American people to rise up. Ha! They didn’t.
Then, when the Abu Ghraib torture thing surfaced and it was revealed that our government participated in rendition, a practice where we kidnap people and turn them over to regimes who specialize in torture, I was sure then the American people would be heard from. We stood mute.
Then came the news that we jailed thousands of so-called terrorist suspects, locked them up without the right to a trial or even the right to confront their accusers. Certainly, we would never stand for that. We did.
And now, it’s been discovered the executive branch has been conducting massive, illegal, domestic surveillance on its own citizens. You and me. And I at least consoled myself that finally, finally the American people will have had enough. Evidentially, we haven’t.
In fact, if the people of this country have spoken, the message is we’re okay with it all. Torture, warrantless search and seizure, illegal wiretappings, prison without a fair trial or any trial, war on false pretenses. We, as a citizenry, are apparently not offended. There are no demonstrations on college campuses. In fact, there’s no clear indication that young people even seem to notice.
Well, Melissa Hughes noticed. Now, you might think, instead of withholding her taxes, she could have protested the old fashioned way. Made a placard and demonstrated at a presidential or vice presidential appearance, but we’ve lost the right to that as well. The Secret Service can now declare free speech zones to contain, control and, in effect, criminalize protest.
Stop for a second and try to fathom that.
At a presidential rally, parade or appearance, if you have on a supportive t-shirt, you can be there. If you’re wearing or carrying something in protest, you can be removed.
This! In the United States of America. This! In the United States of America. Is Melissa Hughes the only one embarrassed?
[He sits down abruptly in the witness chair next to the judge.]
Judge Robert Sanders: Mr. Shore. That’s a chair for witnesses only.
Alan Shore: Really long speeches make me so tired sometimes.
Judge Robert Sanders: Please get out of the chair.
Alan Shore: Actually, I’m sick and tired.
Judge Robert Sanders: Get out of the chair!
Alan Shore: And what I’m most sick and tired of… [He gets up and out of the chair.] …is how every time somebody disagrees with how the government is running things, he or she is labeled un-American.
D.A. Jonathan Shapiro: Evidentially, it’s speech time.
Alan Shore: And speech in this country is free, you hack! Free for me, free for you. Free for Melissa Hughes to stand up to her government and say, “Stick it”!
D.A. Jonathan Shapiro: Objection!
Alan Shore: I object to government abusing its power to squash the constitutional freedoms of its citizenry. And, God forbid, anybody challenge it, they’re smeared as being a heretic. Melissa Hughes is an American. Melissa Hughes is an American. Melissa Hughes is an American!
Judge Robert Sanders: Mr. Shore. Unless you have anything new and fresh to say, please sit down. You’ve breached the decorum of my courtroom with all this hooting.
Alan Shore: Last night, I went to bed with a book. Not as much fun as a 29-year-old, but the book contained a speech by Adlai Stevenson. The year was 1952. He said, “The tragedy of our day is the climate of fear in which we live and fear breeds repression. Too often, sinister threats to the Bill of Rights, to freedom of the mind are concealed under the patriotic cloak of anti-Communism.” Today, it’s the cloak of anti-terrorism.
Stevenson also remarked, “It’s far easier to fight for principles than to live up to them.”
I know we are all afraid. But the Bill of Rights – we have to live up to that. We simply must. That’s all Melissa Hughes was trying to say. She was speaking for you. I would ask you now to go back to that room and speak for her.