Courage is the last casualty

Posted: Oct 17, 2001 12:00 AM
When Ralph Nader told a San Francisco audience that "truth is the first casualty'' in a nation in crisis, he proved himself right. "How many of you, since Sept. 11, have wanted to express an opinion that's something other than the stampede thought police?'' he asked a crowd of 2,000. "Stampede thought police?" If such a force existed in the United States, surely Nader wouldn't be free to address a large group of his fellow malcontents. Others on the left have cited three casualties in what they see as a new chill on free speech. They lead with "Politically Incorrect'' host Bill Maher, who lost sponsors after he called the United States "cowardly" for "lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away.'' Also, two columnists -- Dan Guthrie of Oregon's Daily Courier and Tom Gutting of the Texas City Sun -- were apparently both fired for writing columns critical of President Bush. It is a sorry day for journalism when any newspaper fires a columnist for printing an unpopular opinion. The two firings never should have happened: They reveal an unwholesome tendency to suppress unpopular thoughts, instead of to present different views and let the readers decide. Still, it should be noted that the papers' actions, albeit cowardly, fall under a publisher's rights. As for Maher, well, his fate is no different than that of Dr. Laura Schlessinger. Many of the very same people who complain about "thought police'' squelching Maher had no problem when Schlessinger lost sponsors, or when the media went after Jerry Falwell's dumb post-attack rhetoric. It's only when the left is a target that it starts lauding free speech. Yet, when you look at the most egregious examples of post-attack thought-policing, they hail from Berkeley. University of Censorship student senators threatened to raise the rent on the Daily Californian because they objected to an anti-terrorist cartoon that the student paper published. The city of Berkeley ordered firefighters not to display the American flag -- a move the city later rescinded. Ronald Cruz of the Berkeley Stop the War Coalition told the Chronicle it was "wise'' for Berkeley to ban American flags, because "some people are upset (about) how the mass grief of the nation has been manipulated into support of war.'' The Bush administration did ask major networks to use discretion when airing statements by Osama bin Laden and his henchmen. The Bushies argue that the tapes are propaganda that could be used to send coded messages to OBL followers. I'm skeptical about the coded message claim. Even if it's true, OBL can find other ways to send a message. Meanwhile, there are many Bay Area residents who need to be educated as to OBL's true agenda. The more they hear his actual words, the harder it is for them to tie his butchery to, say, globalization. That said, if this request is the extent of the administration's thought- policing, America is in good shape. Since the left is free to criticize U.S. policy, lefties must see criticism as a proxy for thought-policing. Apparently the peaceniks are so special that while they argue that America needs to allow criticism to remain strong, they of course should not have to endure it. Ah, but most Americans don't swoon at the superiority of peacenik sensibilities. So, the peaceniks must swoon over their own grandiosity. The Middle East Children's Alliance, for example, ran an ad in Sunday's Chronicle lauding Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, Calif., for her "courageous'' vote against a House war resolution. Courageous? That vote probably won't even cost Lee a re-election. Courageous is when people stand up to the Taliban and risk their lives. Delusional is when Americans think being anti-war is an act of courage because they risk getting their precious feelings hurt.