Baby, It’s Cold Outside… For Free Speech
There is a common purpose in what at first appears to be unrelated moves to limit free speech.
Initially, there isn’t an evident connection between the attempts to take down old holiday songs (“Baby, it’s Cold Outside;”) the scolding of law enforcement officials who describe terrorists as being Islamists; the instructing of college students that they can’t say anything that could “offend” anybody on campus; or any of the other myriad objections levied by progressive censors.
John Podhoretz, writing in the New York Post, notes that,
“America is going insane with finger-wagging, tut-tutting, outrage-ready… censoriousness… progressive bullies [are] intent on shutting everyone the hell up lest anyone fail to conform to their narrow sense of what is and is not acceptable. The humorless scolds have decided they are in charge, and for complicated reasons the rest of the culture is going along.”
Over the past decade, progressive politicians had been at the forefront of the move to limit free speech. Senator Schumer (D-NY) actually introduced legislation to limit the First Amendment’s application to some political speech. (The measure was, fortunately, defeated.) Numerous campaign regulations limit the ability of the citizenry to openly support candidates without first jumping through bureaucratic hoops.
Some elected officials are not shy about their goals. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) boldly announced that he would “love to be able to regulate the content of speech.” He particularly spoke about restricting Fox News. Newly elected Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortex (D-NY) threatened Donald Trump Jr. with a subpoena merely for questioning her economic views.
On a governmental level, the trend reached a high point during the Obama Administration, when some dissenting reporters were harassed and their personal records were obtained by the federal government. In addition, the Internal Revenue Service was employed to suppress the Tea Party. The former President’s Attorney General Loretta Lynch even considered “criminally prosecuting” those that merely disagreed with Obama’s climate change views.
Writing during the time when Obama was in the White House, reporter and author Kimberley Strassel described the frightening move towards punishing free speech that was launched by the Obama Administration:
“Americans are […] being targeted on the basis of their political views; they […] risk losing their jobs and reputations for speaking out; they […] face economic and community reprisal.”
Despite the arrogance of progressive politicians such as Obama, Schumer and Lieu, the most immediate current threat comes not from Washington but from nongovernmental sources.
Shireen Qudosi, writing in the Clarion Project reports that,
“Sweeping censorship across social media and subscriber-content sites has pushed conservatives out of these sites and sent them searching for more tolerant digital platforms. The latest story in the news points to increased bans and discrimination against conservative views on Twitter.”
While it has become evident that some internet search engines and social media sites have discriminated against anyone rejecting left-wing orthodoxy, it is less clear what the uniting thread is in the consistent moves to oversee just about everything said (or sung) in public.
A change this dramatic in the national culture cannot occur quickly. Free speech is ingrained in the DNA of the nation. Attempts by elected officials, such as occurred during the Obama Administration, are too obvious. Those pushing the watering down of the First Amendment recognize this, and so resort to more subtle means. Gradually, they are acclimating Americans to the acceptance, on college campuses and in popular culture, to acquiesce to speech limitations.
Americans who have been (at least until Academia drummed it out of their curriculum) brought up in the belief that the First Amendment was a sacred, unassailable right are being re-trained to accept that free speech is now subject to severe limits. Lacking the ability to persuade the public to abandon this key provision of the Bill of Rights, circuitous means are being employed to wean the citizenry from their devotion to it.
The obvious question is why this is being done, and why the left is so enthusiastic about it. The fact is, progressive policies are generally not successful in resolving issues, but very successful in establishing a culture in which elites run roughshod over individual rights. From foreign policy to economics, America’s left has failed to produce salutary results. Exposing that reality, questioning the failed basic premises guiding progressives, is dangerous to the left. But if the conversation can be controlled, if individuals can be restricted, under various excuses, from questioning the left’s logic, then, despite failure, those elites can remain in power. That is why socialist governments consistently need to become more authoritarian, as can be seen in Venezuela and numerous other examples.
Accepting the excuses of the would-be censors would lead to disaster. Americans should tolerate no limits to their First Amendment rights.
Frank Vernuccio serves as the editor-in-chief of the New York Analysis of Policy and Government
Frank Vernuccio serves as editor-in-chief of the New York Analysis of Policy & Government (website usagovpolicy.com). He is the co-host of the syndicated radio program, Vernuccio/Novak Report, and is also a contributor to Fox News. His columns appear in many newspapers. After graduating Hofstra Law School, he was a legislative editor for a major publishing company, then served in both Republican and Democrat Administrations. Following the 9/11 attack, he was appointed to run the hard-hit Manhattan branch of the New York State Workers Compensation Board.