Last week, The Washington Post reported on President-elect Barack Obama's plan to convert his campaign's massive digital database of millions of supporters' contact and background data into a location that will permit him to use that data legally as a tool of persuasion for his governing effort. The Post accurately characterized it as the most important presidential exploitation of a new technology for political purposes since FDR used the then-new radio technology back in the 1930s to talk to, persuade and galvanize the American public.
As someone who did political communications and policy work on Ronald Reagan's White House staff, I can only be admiring of the tremendous political power that these new tools place in Obama's hands. We spent our years constantly trying to get President Reagan's message to the public without having to go through the distorting lens of the Washington press corps. We made huge efforts to try to communicate with specific segments of the public. If we could have merely pressed a button and made immediate, direct, unfiltered contact with tens of millions of our strongest supporters (or any and all demographically and politically sliced and diced pieces of them), I would have thought I had gone to political operative heaven.
Of course, what would have been heaven for us would have been hell for the political opposition. But if we Reaganites didn't have such a technology, our Democratic opposition didn't have any technology of their own, either, so at least it was a fair fight (although the conventional Washington media leaned toward the Democrats).
But today, the conservative opposition to liberalism (in all its political, academic and media guises) at least has talk radio as a strong voice to our constituencies, and that has helped balance the advantage the liberals get from mainstream media bias. And we would have that technology to help counter the communicating power of Obama's new mechanisms.
So it is a political fact of the highest significance that the Democratic Party's leaders -- and perhaps the politically shrewd president-elect himself -- want to kill conservative talk radio legally by reinstituting the deceptively misnamed "Fairness Doctrine" (or perhaps the doctrine of localism, which would be equally lethal to conservative talk radio).
If they succeed at the foregoing, they would come dangerously close to silencing their political opposition. Such a calculated stacking of the political communications deck would, functionally, constitute an even more effective act of repressing dissent than Woodrow Wilson's World War I policy of putting war dissenters in prison.
For most of our history -- until very recently -- it was more often than not American liberals who stood in the watchtowers to defend dissent, both theoretically and functionally, e.g., Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Lucy Stone, Frederick Douglass, Mother Jones, Maurice Garvey, Woody Guthrie, Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez, Abbie Hoffman and Cindy Sheehan.
However, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was asked at a Christian Science Monitor press breakfast in June whether she would support efforts to keep the talk radio-killing Fairness Doctrine from being re-established, the speaker replied without hesitation: "The interest in my caucus is the reverse," and Rep. "Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) has been active behind this (revival of the Fairness Doctrine) for a while now."
"Do you personally support revival of the Fairness Doctrine?" Pelosi was asked. "Yes," she replied spontaneously.
Now, there is no ambiguity about this issue. The Fairness Doctrine would require every show to be balanced in its political opinion, thus ending the viability of any business plans for a successful -- either liberal or conservative -- radio host. But because almost all successful talk radio shows are conservative, liberal Democrats are trying to kill it. They have been explicit. They say they want to take Rush Limbaugh's voice off the radio, as well as the voices of other leading conservatives.
For sheer shabbiness and moral squalor, it is hard to improve on Pelosi's revealing words: "The interest in my caucus is the reverse." She offers not even an obeisance to a principled argument, just the raw political fact that free speech and dissent via talk radio is not in the "interest" of her parliamentary "caucus."
The downward path of liberalism can be charted from the martyr's sacrifice of Martin Luther King to the political bully's grunt of Pelosi. Liberalism, once the champion of man's noblest human instinct for political freedom, is now just a self-admitted machine for power accumulation.
I suppose the rotating of liberalism and conservatism into the power of national office gives each cause the opportunity, in its turn, to relearn the honor of defending dissent in a representative republic such as ours. Now it is the turn of the conservatives. So as the liberals leave the watchtowers of freedom, conservatives are taking up our duty.
Among the new occupants in the watchtower is the Media Research Center, which has formed the Free Speech Alliance to defend dissent by organizing a grass-roots opposition to the re-enactment of the Fairness Doctrine.