This Speech Suppression By Campus Leftists Must Stop Says...Elizabeth Warren?

Posted: Apr 26, 2017 10:30 AM
Good for her, and thankfully, she's not alone on this one. One of the major points Mary Katharine and I made in End of Discussion is that in order to preserve our ability to solve the nation's challenges, we must be able to exchange ideas in a healthier way -- and that goal can only be achieved if proponents of free speech and open expression from across the ideological spectrum link arms and stand up for that core American value. I'm probably inclined to disagree with Sen. Warren at least 90 percent of the time, often strenuously -- and we also have some choice words for her in the book -- but credit where it's due here. This is a sensible and responsible thing to say in the face of leftist mobs blocking three consecutive right-wing guests from speaking at the same large public university over the span of as many months:

You know, look, Ann Coulter has gotten a bigger platform because someone tried to deny her a chance to speak. My view is, let her speak and just don't show up. If you don't like it, don't show up.

That's less of a ringing endorsement of free expression or a strong condemnation of the silencers' fascistic tactics, and more of a piece of practical advice, but at least it's constructive. Warren's far-left Senate comrade Bernie Sanders was much more pointed in his critique of the disruptive crowd:

“I don’t like this. I don’t like it. Obviously Ann Coulter’s outrageous ? to my mind, off the wall. But you know, people have a right to give their two cents-worth, give a speech, without fear of violence and intimidation...To me, it’s a sign of intellectual weakness. If you can’t ask Ann Coulter in a polite way questions which expose the weakness of her arguments, if all you can do is boo, or shut her down, or prevent her from coming, what does that tell the world? What are you afraid of ? her ideas? Ask her the hard questions. Confront her intellectually. Booing people down, or intimidating people, or shutting down events, I don’t think that that works in any way.
Bravo, especially the bit about intellectual weakness, which probably stings.  Lefty comedian Bill Maher, who is sometimes (but not always) quite good on these issues, also tore into these children and their adult abettors (content warning):

"Berkeley, used to be the cradle of free speech but now it's the cradle for f***ing babies. This goes on all over the country on campuses. They invite someone to speak who is not exactly what liberals want to hear and they want to shut her down. I feel like this is the liberals' version of book burning, and it's got to stop. Howard Dean tweeted today about this, 'Hate speech is not protected by the First Amendment.' Yes, it is. Threats are not protected by the First Amendment. This is why the Supreme Court said that the Nazis could march in Skokie. They are a hateful bunch. But that is what the First Amendment means. It doesn't mean just shut up and agree with me."

Not to rankle Mr. Maher too much, but Amen. And ah yes, Howard Dean -- patron saint of the anti-safety 'Safe Space' bully brigade.  The former DNC Chair, Vermont Governor and top-level presidential candidate Howard Dean can't stop making a fool of himself as he attempts to defend his justification of banning controversial opinions from college campuses via mob rule.  Law professor Jonathan Adler swoops in with a dismissive back-of-the-hand, rooted in extensive case law:

Here's another law professor, Glenn Reynolds, fleshing out this point and calling Dean a constitutional "illiterate" in the pages of USA Today:

[One] hallmark of constitutional illiteracy is the claim that the First Amendment doesn’t protect “hate speech.” And by making that claim last week, Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont and Democratic presidential candidate, revealed himself to be a constitutional illiterate. Then, predictably, he doubled down on his ignorance. In First Amendment law, the term “hate speech” is meaningless. All speech is equally protected whether it’s hateful or cheerful. It doesn’t matter if it’s racist, sexist or in poor taste, unless speech falls into a few very narrow categories — like “true threats,” which have to address a specific individual, or “incitement,” which must constitute an immediate and intentional encouragement to imminent lawless action — it’s protected. The term “hate speech” was invented by people who don’t like that freedom, and who want to give the — completely false — impression that there’s a kind of speech that the First Amendment doesn’t protect because it’s hateful. What they mean by “hateful,” it seems, is really just that it’s speech they don’t agree with. Some even try to argue that since hearing disagreeable ideas is unpleasant, expressing those ideas is somehow an act of “violence.”

Between this well-deserved opprobrium from prominent liberals and an excellent statement of principles from dozens of faculty members at another school at which a disgraceful episode ended in a canceled event and physical violence, perhaps cultural progress is being made (although we are still waiting on finalized results from the Middlebury investigation).  I should also note that these flare-ups are not merely unrepresentative, isolated incidents that conservatives are glomming onto in order to foment outrage and scratch a grievance itch, as some have suggested. It's an escalating trend and a critical front of the culture wars, in which the hard left on campus is trying to normalize the silencing of unpopular or controversial opinions through disruption and violence. This must not be tolerated as an acceptable approach to discourse, and should be vehemently opposed everywhere it arises. Due to the threat 'end of discussion' suppression poses to the republic, conservative speech defenders ought to thank those on the Left who are willing to stand up to it -- which is why I'm offering an unqualified expression of appreciation to Warren, Sanders, and Maher in a space that rarely treats them as allies of any sort.  I'll leave you with another hopeful sign -- an interview of two diametrically-opposed Princeton professors who are teaming up to defend free speech and intellectual openness in academia: