31.10.17

A KINDERGARTNER'S VIEW OF FREE SPEECH.

Columnist Kimberley Strassel gave a talk at Hillsdale College, "The Left’s War on Free Speech."  Her children got into a spat, in the way of children, and she attempted to make a teachable moment.  First the oldest, then the middle, explained what they understood free speech to be.

Then it was the five-year-old’s turn. You could tell she’d been thinking hard about her answer. She fixed both her brother and sister with a ferocious stare and said: “Free speech is that you can say what you want—as long as I like it.”

It was at this moment that I had one of those sudden insights as a parent. I realized that my oldest was a constitutional conservative, my middle child a libertarian, and my youngest a socialist with totalitarian tendencies.

With that introduction, my main point today is that we’ve experienced over the past eight years a profound shift in our political culture, a shift that has resulted in a significant portion of our body politic holding a five-year-old’s view of free speech. What makes this shift notable is that unlike most changes in politics, you can trace it back to one day: January 21, 2010, the day the Supreme Court issued its Citizens United ruling and restored free speech rights to millions of Americans.
She elaborates on that "socialist with totalitarian tendencies" in The Intimidation Game: How the Left Is Silencing Free Speech, which I picked up on a train trip a summer ago, read through it quickly, and that I didn't flag any salient passages suggested we're going to get a perfunctory Book Review No. 25.  Ms Strassel's invocation of Citizens United will startle some people, in that the ruling is a litmus test for your attitude, dear reader, about money in politics.  My view is that you will have less money in politics if you have less government involvement in everything we do, because rent seekers will otherwise be seeking rents.

But after we work through a recitation of recent politically correct atrocities, we get, at page 362, to the basis for her argument
.You might be feeling grateful that you never went to a Tea Party meeting, you never wrote a climate research paper, you never donated to Prop 8, you never supported Scott Walker, you never donated money to [the American Legislative Exchange Council], you never ran a company subject to shareholder proxies, you never volunteered for Americans for Prosperity.  You have never had your speech rights assaulted.

Only you'd be wrong.  You have.
And here the book's main message comes through.  It's not about speech codes, or the verbal terrorism of campus crybullies, or the nasty give-and-take of social media.  It's about attempts, primarily by Democrats, to distinguish campaign contributions from political speech in order to reduce the influence of money on elections.  (Perhaps the self-financing presidential run of Donald Trump -- was that bad improv schtick of the primary season a tactic to get lots of free coverage?  -- has concentrated a few minds: or has the recent success of Republicans at fund-raising, Mr Trump notwithstanding, kept that alive?)

Yes, the authors of speech codes, and the commissars of consensus, and the crybullies, and your pissed off interlocutors on social media, are attempting to own the debate by intimidating opposing views.  All you have to do, dear reader, is retort with a "shut up and fetch my latte" or perhaps with a "make me."  But when you use the government's monopoly on violence, you run the risk that a regime change gives your worst enemy the powers you'd grabbed for yourself.

That's how Ms Strassel concludes her Hillsdale talk.
Finally, conservatives need to tamp down any impulse to practice such intimidation themselves. Our country is best when it is engaging in vigorous debate. The Framers of the Constitution envisioned a multiplicity of interests that would argue their way to a common good. We succeed with more voices, not fewer, and we should have enough confidence in our arguments to hear out our opponents.
The book provides the supporting details, or perhaps the litany of thought police atrocities, should you be so interested.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

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