"Speak truth to power," a phrase of Quaker origins adopted by campus radicals, Hollywood gadflies and establishment journalists, has become shorthand for bravely criticizing government, big corporations and other stereotypical villains.
But where's the bravery? I don't know many journalists who are afraid of the government, and most make their living from big corporations. Sure, liberals -- which most journalists are -- are afraid of what conservatives will do in power and vice versa. But they aren't very afraid of what government will do to them, specifically.
In fact, being singled out for criticism by the president of the United States is nothing short of a gift. To this day, aging has-beens exploit any opportunity to brag that they were on Richard Nixon's enemies list. When Bill Clinton denounced William Kristol in 1994 for monkey-wrenching health-care reform, he helped make Kristol one of the most important people in Washington. Various White House assaults on Rush Limbaugh have him laughing all the way to the bank.
And yet, I've met innumerable writers and editors who are scared, even terrified, of one or more of these groups: gays, blacks, Latinos, Asians, Jews, feminists, evangelical Christians and the handicapped. You can write 100 columns calling the president a mass-murdering, sexually depraved sociopath, or demanding that we nationalize the oil companies, but don't you dare invite the wrath of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or the parents of autistic kids, or (shudder) cat lovers.
(I once wrote a column supporting the hunting of feral cats in Wisconsin, where up to 217 million birds are killed by wild felines each year. Several veteran editors sent me notes marveling at my naivete. Indeed, the e-mail response was so frightening, I nearly put my family in hiding. By the way, I now believe feral cats should be permitted to dine on schoolchildren if they so desire.)
And it's not just journalists. Politicians are petrified of seeming hostile toward members of the "coalition of the oppressed." Legislators cower in fear of earning the wrath of gays, but will brag in their direct mail that they are at war with the White House or that they've stood up to the military-industrial complex.
But even the gay bullies on "Seinfeld" can't hold a candle to radical Muslims in terms of their ability to strike fear in the hearts of others.