President Obama demonstrated what free speech is all about today by refusing to throw a heckler out, and discussing the issue of deportations with him during his speech in San Francisco.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Mr. Obama –
THE PRESIDENT: — most importantly, we will live up –
AUDIENCE MEMBER: — my family has been separated for 19 months now –
THE PRESIDENT: — most importantly, we will live up to our character as a nation.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I’ve not seen my family. Our families are separated. I need your help. There are thousands of people –
THE PRESIDENT: That’s exactly what we’re talking about.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: — are torn apart every single day.
THE PRESIDENT: That’s why we’re here.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Mr. President, please use your executive order to halt deportations for all 11.5 undocumented immigrants in this country right now.
THE PRESIDENT: What we’re trying –
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Do you agree
AUDIENCE: Obama! Obama! Obama!
AUDIENCE MEMBER: — that we need to pass comprehensive immigration reform at the same time we — you have a power to stop deportation for all undocumented immigrants in this country.
THE PRESIDENT: Actually I don’t. And that’s why we’re here.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: So, please, I need your help.
THE PRESIDENT: Okay —
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Stop deportations!
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Stop deportations!
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. All right.
AUDIENCE MEMBERS: Stop deportations! Stop deportations!
THE PRESIDENT: What I’d like to do — no, no, don’t worry about it, guys. Okay, let me finish.
AUDIENCE MEMBERS: Stop deportations! Yes, we can! Stop deportations!
THE PRESIDENT: These guys don’t need to go. Let me finish. No, no, no, he can stay there. Hold on a second. (Applause.) Hold on a second.
So I respect the passion of these young people because they feel deeply about the concerns for their families. Now, what you need to know, when I’m speaking as President of the United States and I come to this community, is that if, in fact, I could solve all these problems without passing laws in Congress, then I would do so.
But we’re also a nation of laws. That’s part of our tradition. And so the easy way out is to try to yell and pretend like I can do something by violating our laws. And what I’m proposing is the harder path, which is to use our democratic processes to achieve the same goal that you want to achieve. But it won’t be as easy as just shouting. It requires us lobbying and getting it done. (Applause.)
The president didn’t have the heckler removed. He didn’t insult or try to humiliate the heckler. Instead, he listened and had a dialogue about his concerns. The president also made an important point during the conversation.
He can’t wave a magic wand and stop the deportations. It will take comprehensive immigration reform to change our system. Even if Obama could magically stop the deportations, is that the way we want our country to be governed?
If President Obama stopped the deportations, there would be nothing to stop the next president from reversing his policy and adopting a harsher policy. The way to get lasting change is to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill through Congress.
The passion of activists deserves our appreciation, but many activists don’t understand how to use their activism to change the way the nation is governed. Anyone who yells and wants President Obama to snap his fingers and make something happen is pretending. They aren’t being honest with themselves about the slow and often frustrating policy process.
These activists shouldn’t be yelling at President Obama. They should be yelling at John Boehner. There is enough support in the House to pass the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill, but Speaker Boehner will not allow a vote.
President Obama demonstrated what free speech is all about today. The heckler got a chance to talk. He wasn’t punished for his speech. The president listened and made his case for why activists should be supporting immigration reform.
Free speech isn’t contained in a fenced off zone, as George W. Bush did things. Free speech is being able to express a dissenting view to the President of the United States.
President Obama is listening to the American people, and that is a real change that you can believe in.