In a previous article, I noted the very troubling, censorious ways of many on the Left, particularly those referred to as Social Justice Warriors. But I would be remiss not to explain that conservatives are by no means immune to these temptations and have their own problems with the First Amendment. And yes, I know the First Amendment doesn’t give you a platform to speak; it simply prevents the government from silencing free speech. Still, trying to silence people—through the government or not—is certainly not acting in the vein of those that support free speech.
The Left’s opposition to free speech is usually criticized as “political correctness” or sometimes “Cultural Marxism,” the purveyors of “critical theory” such as Herbert Marcuse and the rest of the Frankfurt School. Thus Social Justice Warriors of this persuasion will get Michael Savage banned and some random guy fired for telling a joke about dongles and the like.
And in turn, conservatives complain, and not without merit, at least in terms of the Left trying to silence conservative dissent. But that being said, the Right is by no means innocent on this count. One recent example was Helen Thomas, who was fired from the White House Press Corps for saying “The Jews should get the Hell out of Palestine.” Now, do I agree with that statement? No, it’s obviously a lot more complicated than that. But then again, does it matter whether I agree?
Just like with certain elements of the Social Justice Warrior crowd, it seems that those that disagree with the prevailing opinion must be punished for their thought crimes. After all, why refute someone when you can simply yell at them and demand they get fired, right?
Do you remember Ward Churchill? He was the controversial University of Colorado professor who referred to those who died in the World Trade Center as “little Eichmanns.” He was eventually fired for plagiarism, but I remember the likes of Sean Hannity calling for his head long before the whole plagiarism angle came up. I even remember a broadcast where he asking someone from the University of Colorado why they had to fire him for plagiarism instead of simply canning Churchill for his—admittedly extremely inconsiderate—opinion on 9/11.
And a single tear rolled down Thomas Jefferson’s cheek while he rolled over in his grave.
Even the complaints on the Right about “reverse racism” can turn into what I guess we should call “reverse political correctness.” The case of Shirley Sherrod certainly went too far in my judgment. Indeed, say what you will about Barack Obama, but he is pretty good about not making inflammatory comments. But that doesn’t stop conservatives from accusing him of hating white people (like here or here).
Indeed, political correctness doesn’t need to be some grand conspiracy of Cultural Marxists or whatever. It is really just what opinions are considered acceptable and which must be punished (and how badly punished). So communism was politically correct in the Soviet Union and politically incorrect in the United States today. And it’s probably noteworthy that a politician would be dead in the water in five seconds if he or she admitted to being a communist.
What about an atheist? In 2014, there was only one open atheist running for the House of Representatives and he lost. And while there are a few Mormons and Jews in office, virtually all of them are Christians. Ironically, while it’s easier to make fun of Christianity on late night shows, it’s still all but mandatory to be a Christian in order to run for public office.
And then of course, good luck if you appear anti-military or even worse anti-soldier. A Kansas woman got fired for a 50 odd word Facebook post that said things like “War is not heroic” and “Get a life and a real job?”
Or try just being straight anti-American. Indeed, the hoopla surrounding Jeremy Wright’s comments about the “chickens coming home to roost” all but became the central plank of John McCain’s Presidential campaign was.
Again, right now it certainly appears that the Left is worse on free speech than the Right. But I don’t believe this is a matter of principles. I think it simply boils down to the fact that currently, the Right is losing the cultural war and I fear that this is the main reason for the recent invigoration amongst the Right for free speech. After all, to the victor go the spoils. And one of those spoils is the ability to force people to shut up, be it with public pressure or even government force. So what incentive would the Left have to fight for freedom of speech?
Back when conservatives had the culture in hand, Joe McCarthy was blacklisting communists, The Beatles were being protested, threatened and boycotted because John Lennon said off the cuff that they were “more popular than Jesus”, a restrictive code for filmmakers, which included bans on showing things such as “miscegenation,” was in force and of course, there were those seven words you couldn’t say. Conservatives have not been good with freedom of speech.
In the end, I don’t believe there is a strong, principled belief on the Right or Left in favor of free speech. Whoever is losing supports free speech because they need it and whoever is winning tries to dismantle it because it is of little use to them. Perhaps this is inevitable and we can only hope that things oscillate enough between the two sides to protect this most fundamental of freedoms.
Or perhaps, despite our fervent disagreements, we could all at least rally around the basics. And freedom of speech being the cornerstone of our republic should be first on the list.