Shut Up or We’ll Shout You Down

Rich Tucker
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Posted: Sep 14, 2007 4:08 PM
Shut Up or We’ll Shout You Down

This is a good time to be a political junkie. Until recent years, it was often difficult to make one’s political opinions known. After all, only a handful of people owned printing presses or broadcast towers. Everybody else was reduced to raving on street corners.

But today, there are so many informational outlets no one person can possibly pay attention to all of them.

It’s not simply the three 24-hour cable news outlets that are constantly trolling for live content. There’s also an AM dial packed with talk radio stations. Political podcasts are sprouting like mushrooms after a rain storm. Sites such as Townhall.com carry dozens of new columns every day, and for those who want to make their opinions known immediately, there are an unlimited (but somehow still growing) number of blogs.

In short, free political speech is as prevalent today as it’s been in the entire history of our republic. Small wonder, then, that the real problem today isn’t finding an outlet for the free exchange of ideas. It’s attempts by a minority to prevent that free exchange.

Enter the political pressure group Code Pink.

The organization says it’s dedicated to getting the U.S. “out of Iraq NOW,” but it doesn’t seem to be having much luck. Last fall Democrats won both houses of Congress, but almost a year later our policy has gone in the opposite direction from the one that Code Pink advocates. It wants our troops out, but Congress agreed to President Bush’s request to surge more troops in.

This week, Army Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker came to Washington to answer questions from lawmakers about the war. The men clearly remain cautious, but they report we’re making progress. “Coalition and Iraqi forces have dealt significant blows to al Qaeda-Iraq. Though al Qaeda and its affiliates in Iraq remain dangerous, we have taken away a number of their sanctuaries and gained the initiative in many areas,” Petraeus told senators.

Now, under our political system, Code Pink is free to disagree with Petraeus. They’re even free, as fellow liberal pressure group Moveon.org did, to take out a newspaper ad in The New York Times attacking him. But they ought to at least hear him out.

No such luck. Several times during both the House and Senate hearings, Code Pink protestors interrupted the testimony. They stood, shouting and waving banners, until police escorted them out. Here’s how a New York Times editorial describes the interruption in the House: “When protesters interrupted the hearing, Rep. Skelton ordered them removed from the room, which is understandable. But then he said that they would be prosecuted. That seemed like an unnecessarily authoritarian response to people who just wanted to be heard.”

That, of course, completely distorts what these “protestors” want to do. They don’t want to be heard; they want to prevent others from being heard.

Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker came to Washington lawmakers to give their views, and they did so. The Code Pink activists in the room didn’t want to hear from them, and more than that, they wanted to prevent others from hearing from them. So they disrupted the hearings until they were removed from the room.

To put it in terms the Times editors can understand, if the protestors had wanted to “be heard” they had many outlets. They could have written an op-ed and submitted it to the newspaper, for example. Instead, they tried, in effect, to stand in front of the newspaper box and prevent other people from buying the paper.

To further illustrate the difference, if you disagree with what I’m saying here (it’s been known to happen), Townhall invites you to go to comments box and pound out a response which will remain tacked to the column, well, forever. But Townhall will not allow you (I hope) to hack into my column and erase entire paragraphs. That’s because this site respects the difference between a free exchange of opinion and an attempt to prevent other voices from being heard.

It’s wonderful to live in a free society. But as long as the Code Pink protesters want to shout everyone else down they aren’t encouraging free speech, they’re infringing upon it.

The organization’s message clearly isn’t strong enough to win many converts in an open debate. Too bad for them, but that’s their problem. If their arguments are that weak, maybe they ought to rethink them. Instead, they run around town disrupting others and generally behaving like a group of unsupervised kindergartners. No wonder they’re pitied, not powerful.