Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Left's New Theory of "Free Speech" Under the First Amendment

As Americans, most of us have assumed that we are free to say whatever we want about whoever and whatever we want to speak about. We understand that there are exceptions for things like libel, slander and yelling fire in a theater. But the Left feels differently. It is not just that they oppose speech with which they disagree, or speech that they find "insulting" or "hateful;" they are now providing an intellectual basis for making legal changes to our First Amendment rights.

Former Labor Secretary and now Public Policy Professor at UC Berkeley, Robert Reich, said this: "Unfortunately, Berkeley and other universities have played into a narrative that the right would love to advance...The narrative assumes a cultural plot against the free expression of right-wing views in which academe, mainstream media - every facet of the establishment - is organized against them...That's a narrative Trump used to get into the White House." A "narrative?" Just a story?

As discussed in recent posts in this blog, conservative speakers Milo Yiannopoulos, Charles Murray, Heather MacDonald and now Ann Coulter have been prevented from speaking or been disinvited or forced to back out from speaking on college campuses. But those are simply the most recent examples. Here are some more: Karl Rove at U. Mass, Rand Paul at Howard, Ben Carson at Johns Hopkins, Ben Shapiro at Cal State L.A., Condoleezza Rice at Rutgers, Ayaan Hirsi Ali at Brandeis, and Jason Riley at Va. Tech. Then there is the objection to Israeli speakers: then Israeli Amb. to the US Michael Oren at UC Irvine, and Benjamin Netanyahu, now Israeli P.M., at Concordia Univ. in Montreal. All these speakers constitute nothing more than "a narrative (that) assumes a cultural plot against the free expression of right-wing views?" Let's get real!

NYU Professor Ulrich Baer had an op-ed in the 4/24/17 NY Times entitled "What Snowflakes Get Right About Free Speech." Baer: "During the 1980s and '90s, a shift occurred in American culture; personal experience and testimony, especially of suffering and oppression, began to challenge the primacy of argument. Freedom of expression became a flash point in this shift." How does this work? Those who were oppressed get to censor speech of the alleged oppressors? The descendants of those who were formerly oppressed get to censor the descendants of those claimed to be the oppressors? Who gets to decide who belongs in each group - and what words are permissible?

The new standard seems to be that we allow only that speech which enhances the "public good." Baer: "Some topics, such as claims that some human beings are by definition inferior to others, or illegal or unworthy of legal standing, are not open to debate because such people cannot debate them on the same terms." First, notice the elitist attitude that certain groups need some sort of government protection from speech, because they are not able to "debate...on the same terms." Second, who gets to decide what topics are off limits for public debate, and what enforcement mechanisms will be utilized? Once again, we can infer that the Left will look to the government to determine proper speech. Is that really the direction in which we should be going? How long before we end up with a complete suppression of speech, as we have seen in various Communist - and other dictatorial - countries.

Baer: For speech to be considered a "common, public good...requires the realization that in politics, the parameters of public speech must be continually redrawn to accommodate those who previously had no standing." Baer continued: "As a scholar of literature, history and politics, I am especially attuned to the next generation's demands to revise existing definitions of free speech to accommodate previously delegitimized experiences. Freedom of expression is not an unchanging absolute." Well, I am always glad to hear from scholars of this, that and the other thing. No, I am not against intellectual thought and analysis. But, intellectuals and scholars do not have such a great track record of defending liberty. They often supported the murderous Communist regime in Soviet Russia. They have supported Castro's Cuba. And they often support the terrorism-committing Palestinians in their efforts to wipe Israel off the map. So, spare me the intellectual gobbledygook. What we are really talking about is tyranny.

Baer finishes his piece with this: "We should thank the student protesters, the activists in Black Lives Matter and other "overly sensitive souls" for keeping watch over the soul of our republic." Yes, let's thank Black Lives Matter for things like "pigs in a blanket, fry 'em like bacon." I guess that highly offensive speech - calling cops pigs, and suggesting they be fried - coming from the Left is to be permitted. I guess we get to see that not all offensive speech is banned - depending on which side of the political divide is uttering it.

A former head of the DNC, Howard Dean, expressed that "hate speech is not protected by the First Amendment." He's wrong. One letter writer to the USA Today said this: "Just because you can say something doesn't mean it should be said, freedom or not." He's right, of course. However, he left out that it also does not mean that the government should be able to punish those who say things that, perhaps, are indeed best left unsaid. The letter writer suggests using good judgment and common sense, with which, again, I totally concur. But he ends his letter saying: "So you can take your ivory tower interpretation of what free speech means and park it down your apologist street." This writer's approach would mean that those who take offense would be able to bar speech of those whose speech offends them. That is exactly what we have now in academia. Why is the closure of debate a good thing? Why is the Left unable to rebut speech with which they disagree? Because they have been oppressed? History is replete with writings and speeches by those who have suffered true oppression - the oppressed have not been unable to speak. Now, with the internet and social media, there is virtually an unlimited ability to speak. It is both elitist and tyrannical to suggest that government needs to protect certain people from certain speech.

Given how so many people today take offense so easily, if we were to abide by this new theory of permissible speech, there would be precious little speech left. Sadly, the above-mentioned letter writer does not appreciate that in a free society we do have to tolerate speech that may be obnoxious to us. It is called liberty. But liberty is not a value for the Left. As this blog has previously pointed out, the fundamental American values always take a back seat to the Left's agenda-driven issues. As another letter writer to the USA Today so astutely pointed out, "Speech that is not offensive does not need protection. The First Amendment was created precisely to protect speech that some may find offensive..."