Democrat opponents of free speech squash that "Dissent Is Patriotic" stuff

Jon Sanders

5/17/2007 12:01:19 AM - Jon Sanders

"Why don't you go f--- yourself?" That was how House Democrat Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel reportedly responded to a Politico reporter's request – made "in the effort for openness and disclosure" – to sit in on a caucus debate over the language of a lobbying bill.

The incident is emblematic. The Democrats this year have taken a disturbingly statist downturn in their approach to governing, especially regarding speech by political opponents and presumed unfriendly press.

An early sign of this tendency was the orchestrated walkout by Democrat presidential candidates from debates co-sponsored by Fox News over the networks' presumed conservative bias. The spectacle was clownish at first glance, but it revealed a deep-seated aversion to question or debate that is not only unattractive in political leadership, but also downright ominous.

Then the House passed a bill to broaden the federal "hate crimes" law, which seeks to specify which inferred bigoted opinions involved in the commission of violent crime makes those crimes more offensive to society. Stripped of its emotional raison d'etre, the bill is essentially a thought-crimes bill. The violent acts were already illegal.

Of greater concern is the renewed push for the Fairness Doctrine. As reported in The American Spectator's "Washington Prowler," Democrat leaders in the U.S. House will, in their words, "aggressively pursue" the reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine. Aides told TAE that Democrats were interested in the legislation specifically to limit conservative talk radio and have already begun to investigate certain targets, among them Rush Limbaugh, Bill Bennett, Michael Medved, and Dr. Richard Lind.

As I write this, on Wednesday afternoon, news surfaced on The Drudge Report that "[t]he Democratic Leadership is threatening to change the current House Rules regarding the Republican right to the Motion to Recommit or the test of germaneness on the motion to recommit." This change, which would "completely shut down the floor to the minority," would be the first change to the germaneness rule since 1822.

Others will no doubt point out that such heavy-handed squelching of dissent is 180 degrees out of phase with the Democrats' pre-election day promises of openness and fair dealings with the minority party. Nevertheless, winning on promises of new openness, fairer dealings, etc. and then reneging on them is a time-honored prelude to socialists usurping power in other countries. For that matter, so is silencing dissent.

The targets of this menace in the Land of the First Amendment, however, are exactly those who are least likely to protest. As Alan Charles Kors and Harvey A. Silverglate pointed out nearly a decade ago in The Shadow University, their 1998 book on university speech codes, the academic proving ground of this threat to freedom: "Republicans, moderates, evangelicals, assimilationist blacks or Hispanics, and devout Catholics don’t occupy buildings or cause disruptions that will bring the media to campus." Unlike the "self-appointed militants" representing grievance groups, individuals – especially law-and-order types – are unlikely to protest, so they're more likely to have their rights trampled by the speech police, be they on campus on in Congress.

But with free speech already this deeply imperiled with these Democrats having held Congressional power for less than half a year, those who care for individual rights must protest now. If this Orwellian insurgency isn't beaten back quickly, imagine the chilled climate in a couple more years – especially if a like-minded enemy of free speech is placed in the White House. Our freedom of speech is secured by the Bill of Rights. Let's not forget that – nor let this current Congress erode it.