Reporter's Note: President Obama is a truly gifted speaker. And that could come in handy if he travels to France with his wife in the near future. Or, for example, if he ever decides to call me about one of these daily letters to Pennsylvania Avenue.
Tom Foreman | BIO
Dear Mr. President,
So the French, with their often amusing and impenetrable logic, have decided to outlaw “psychological violence” in marital affairs; meaning, as best I can make out, that if you yell at or unduly insult your wife during a spat, or she does the same to you, that will constitute a crime.
You don’t have to spend long chewing on this croissant, to know that it should have been tossed into “le dumpster.” I’ve covered enough cases of domestic violence to take the issue tres seriously. The things that people do to their significant others can be truly horrific, and we should certainly do all we can to reduce it. But language, as terrible as it may be, is simply too hard to decipher apart from its context to make it criminal in these cases. Drop by a contentious divorce hearing some time. You’ll hear enough blistering “he said/she said” accusations to peel the enamel from your teeth. And the truth can be mighty hard to extract.
On top of which, it seems to me such a law is custom made for passive-aggressive types; my wife will tell you in a heartbeat that the madder I get, the quieter I get, and the more it drives her nuts. So I could be completely at fault, she could be the one who tips over the edge, and guess who winds up carted off to the Iron Bar Hilton? See the problem? (And btw, just so I don’t wind up in a dispute, we’ve been married for more than 23 years. We long ago figured out that no disagreement is worth letting the pasta get cold, or missing the movie.)
This is a French law, so what am I worried about? Because I worry about any law anywhere that restricts what people can say. We, as a society, have long accepted some standards of censorship as reasonable: you can’t openly plot the assassination of a president, you can’t slander private citizens, and you can’t yell “theater” at a crowded fire…or however that goes.
But I think people have to be able to talk. Even when they are angry. And maybe especially when they are angry. Does that leave some people offended from time to time? Sure. But as a friend of mine once said, “Living in a free society means being offended from time to time. Because someone is going to use that freedom, now and then, to do something you don’t like. Get used to it.”
Anyway, it was on my mind, so I thought I’d bring it up. Hope I didn’t break any laws.
But just in case, I’m going to sign off now.
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