Columnist and Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers' new book, "The Silencing: How the Left Is Killing Free Speech," links her snugly to the cause of unfettered thought and expression -- important for conservatives, certainly but also for non-conservatives. As it should be for any American, come to think of it, as the "progressive" left pounds and pulverizes anyone of differing mind and purpose.
The politicization of almost everything has put at some risk, in the most talkative of ages, the broadly assumed right of First Amendment-cherishing Americans to speak their pieces. "The illiberal left," says Powers, "... believes that people who express ideological, philosophical, or political views that don't line up with their preferences should be completely silenced." In other words, delegitimized as people worth hearing on the showing of "self-appointed overlords -- activists, university administrators, journalists, and politicians -- who have determined what views are acceptable to express. So, shut up -- or else."
I am not sure we're ready, collectively speaking, for the discussion Powers wants to push forward. Look, who's shutting her up? And, boy, let me tell what would happen to some pointy-head who tried to cut me off at the mike. The love of free speech remains robust in 21st century America.
Powers, calling herself a "proud liberal," wishes to warn of increasingly numerous and virulent attempts from the left to thwart the merest questioning of leftish viewpoints -- the right to same-sex marriage, undying racism as a barrier to black achievement, rape as a growing expression of male privilege, the duty of acquiescence in all feminist goals, including, latterly, government-furnished contraception. Surely we can add to such an already impressive list the newly discovered role of white cops as executioners of inner city black youth.
Powers does a commendable job of collecting the horror stories. We learned recently of bakers and florists calumniated for declining to service couples intending same-sex marriage. Speech codes contradict the free discussion historically associated with universities. Adopt the "wrong" viewpoint on TV or in a newspaper column and your foes many times deny your integrity, your right to speak, or both. Read the book if you want the scarifying details.
The question to which I wish Powers had paid more attention is: What's come over us? Have we gone nuts? A strong case could be made for the proposition that the America we thought we knew in 1964 or thereabouts, when many of us were attaining sapience, is out of business. Goody-goody, say those who point rightly to the higher, more equitable estate of blacks today, as compared with 1964, and the sharp increase in opportunities for women.
The curious thing about the "equality" debate we have pretended to carry on since then -- the meaning of the word, the means of getting there -- is the left's insistence on drumhead court martials for any who would examine, too embarrassingly, methods and means. For instance, starting with Daniel P. Moynihan, in the 1960s, scholars who portray family dissolution as deadlier to blacks than any imputed shortage of government grants and programs. The Robespierres of the left, like their predecessors in revolutionary France, desire no backtalk. They're right! You're wrong!
Who says so? They do. Which is maybe the salient point here. They decide -- in the media, in the university president's office, at the White House. Who lets them decide? The silent, timid majority -- with spirits as deflated by now as a New England Patriots game ball.
Threats to free speech exist only insofar as believers in free speech hang their heads, bite their tongues, draw out handkerchiefs and sniffle a little before slinking into the shadows.
I don't doubt the validity of the case Powers lays out against the left for attempting to turn the lights out on free speech before competing concerns have received a fair hearing. I question the need some may see here for remedial hugs and back rubs.
The speech police are flat-out wrong. How dare they try to shush and stifle opposing viewpoints? Rise up, friends of Thomas Jefferson, and tell these jerks -- at last -- where to get off!