Having had no plans for celebration on New Year’s Eve and no genuine cause for celebration, I undertook a long and meandering walk late that evening, stretching from my home to downtown Buffalo some six miles away. Holidays like that one are not at all my scene, and in observing the crowds, I alternate between enjoyment and derision. Whether centered in the Elmwood Village, or Allentown, or the ball-drop festivities along Main Street, most of what I saw at the close of 2011 seemed quite run-of-the-mill. So when I plunged into the crowd at Buffalo’s one major public event for the evening, I was made exceptionally upset by just one thing.
It didn’t take long after arriving until I noticed a cluster of signs being held in the air in part of the crowd. I think it’s pretty natural that my first thought was that they might simply be homemade slogans regarding the start of the New Year. It took me just another moment to see what they were. Every one of the eight or ten signs read “Ron Paul 2012,” with not an ounce of variation in phrasing, font, or color scheme. A couple of minutes later, I realized why they were clustered in exactly the location they were. It was just behind their group that the local ABC affiliate had set up its tent with elevated cameras in fixed positions for coverage of the event.
The families at home in the area who tuned in to watch a carefree, universal gathering of other locals were treated instead to what I can only assume was two solid hours of bobbing campaign signs, and little else. I actually made an effort to yell out to the Ron Paul devotees the question of whether people at home might have been interested in something other than a small group’s political message, but I don’t think I was heard over the noise of the crowd. There is some saving grace in that, I suppose. It’s good to know that the people encircling that contingent of misplaced advocates were having a good time, even if the ones at home were being prevented that.
If I’d had the opportunity to engage in a discussion with those people, I can only assume that I would have gotten some sort of response along the lines that it’s a free country and that I had no business trying to stifle their free speech. What bombastic people seem frequently to forget about the Constitution is that the guarantee of free speech rights doesn’t mean that it’s always right to use your speech to be a complete asshole.
I’m all for standing up for what one believes in and broadcasting one’s message through whatever channels are available, and I’ll encourage anyone to do so, even if his views are ones that I don’t remotely agree with. But there’s a time and a place for everything; and a completely apolitical, celebratory local event is nearly as inappropriate a place for group advocacy of a national political cause as is a veteran’s funeral.
It made me terrifically sad to see so many people ringing in the New Year with such a complete lack of self-awareness, ethics, and restraint. If there’s one good thing to be said for it, it’s that such a public show of obtuse behavior may drive away large numbers of people, not necessarily from Ron Paul’s candidacy, but certainly from such aggressively intrusive activism.