response to "free speech" letter

I received this response (25 Nov 2004 9:05 AM) to the John Stuart Mill quote from my piece on freedom of speech:

I confess that I did not read all of the articles to which you refer, but I do agree with the quote from John Stuart Mill. I do perceive that the liberal left has been, and continues to be, the prime violator of free speech in this country. Witness the predominance of liberalism in schools and colleges and Hollywood and the media, and observe the treatment of those who take opposing (conservative) positions in those settings. I rest my case.

Liberalism, as a political philosophy, is as bankrupt as its hero, communism. This is at least partially due to the fact that it adopts the same position that communism took, namely that all opposing schools of thought must be eradicated so that the stupid unwashed masses can be re-educated in the true faith.

I believe that the attached red-blue map is a harbinger of the success of conservatism. It isn't too late to get on the train before it leaves the station.

PS - have also attached two articles that may foretell things to come. [LINKS]


I responded with this analysis (1 Dec 2004, 5:07 PM) of the "bankrupt liberalism" charge:

Schools and colleges may have been liberal several decades ago, and I can't really comment on that without further investigation. I can, however, say that - absent the sporadic and overblown "PC" incidents of the early 1990s - higher education is certainly not liberal today. My recent college experience, and that of many acquaintances, bears this out. If you've read articles like George Will's "Academia, Stuck To the Left," check out "Flunking Statistics" for a debunking of the latest attempt to create a "liberal academia" mythology via selective statistics.

Much the same is true of the media. Would the "treatment" of conservatives you're talking about be the difficult struggles of such well-known Hollywood stars as Mel Gibson, Charlton Heston, Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Pat Sajak, Tom Selleck, Ron Silver, Ben Stein, and Bruce Willis? It's such a shame that they were all blacklisted because of their political opinions, and have been unable to find work in their chosen profession. I must have missed the Congressional investigations into their "un-American" activities.

If liberals actually did dominate the media, they've been extraordinarily incompetent: they have done conservatives' bidding by spending the past few decades demonizing the word "liberal" - using not facts, but the caricature of liberalism constructed by conservatives. This misrepresentation has been accomplished so thoroughly that the great liberal thinkers of ages past (Mill, Jefferson, Paine, et al.) are no longer recognized as such, and the liberal foundations of our nation have, likewise, become invisible.

Despite the fact that news commentary is dominated by conservatives, they (O'Reilly, Coulter, Goldberg, Limbaugh, Savage, Krauthammer, Will, Safire, Thomas, Buckley, Buchanan, Drudge, etc.) complain endlessly about a monolithic "liberal bias" whose existence they have been unable to prove beyond a few anecdotes. While slanted reporting does occur, it's not as uniformly one-sided as the conservative choir pretends. If liberals truly dominated the media, the word "conservative" would be demonized, "corporate-jet conservatives" would be mocked more than "limousine liberals," there would be incessant cries of "conservative bias," and rhetorical conflations of conservatism and fascism would outnumber those of liberalism and communism...but that's not the case.

For me, the attached "Tom Tomorrow" cartoon summarizes much of the past year's campaign. From flip-flops to Swift Boats, lies and libels were certainly effective in putting Democrats on the defensive, but this tactic wouldn't have worked so well without media complicity. As Paul Krugman wrote back in September 2002:

"The next time the administration insists that chocolate is vanilla, much of the media - fearing accusations of liberal bias, trying to create the appearance of 'balance' - won't report that the stuff is actually brown; at best they'll report that some Democrats claim that it's brown."

Liberalism sees communism as its hero? Hardly. Although this "liberal=communist" equation is part of the popular caricature, I don't know any liberal who idolizes communism...and I'll bet that you don't, either. Most people don't even know (due to another widely disseminated caricature) that communism is an economic system, as is capitalism - and not a political one, as is the totalitarianism with which it is often confused. The past century saw the spectacular failures of totalitarianism on both the far left (Soviet Russia) and the far right (Nazi Germany), but drawing valid conclusions from those extreme examples is difficult at best; one could argue that instances such as those are off the political spectrum and exist as a separate category.

At any rate, liberalism's belief in individual freedoms (particularly those of press, speech, and religion) would make any hypothetical support for totalitarianism nothing short of suicidal; after all, media and education rely on freedom of speech and inquiry to function. Far from being the prime violators of free speech, liberals are its staunchest defenders. The unjustly maligned ACLU is perhaps the best example: they don't just talk about the importance of free speech, they actively protect the speech of those - like the Neo-Nazis - who would never do the same.

It is usually conservatives who demand censorship powers, often by declaring their opponents' positions blasphemous, obscene, or immoral. When high school students form a gay-straight alliance, it's the conservatives who rush to shut down all school clubs for fear of a good example. They are also the prime motive force behind book-burnings, Internet filters at public libraries, "free-speech zones" at public events, loyalty oaths at political rallies, prohibitions against pacifists traveling by air...and the list goes on.

I've seen the electoral map before, and have also pointed out the geographical fallacy involved in how it is usually misinterpreted. Interestingly, I don't recall any Republicans conceding Gore's "mandate" in 2000 when he won a popular-vote majority.

I don't think that's likely that I would get on the current conservative train. It will return to the station eventually, after it has finished its rearward travel and - realizing that liberals were correct all along, but never admitting it - begins moving forward again.

As far as the articles: aside from their ruminations on the pitfalls of cultural assimilation, they merely serve as reminders that power corrupts. This appears to be universal to all governments, all religions - and especially all alliances thereof. As the fundamentalists (the Taliban, Wahhabis, and their al Qaeda brethren) have demonstrated, Muslims will mount their own Crusades and run their own Inquisitions if given the chance. Our task is difficult: we must not only thwart their destructive wishes, but also resist the temptation to abuse our own powers and cause yet more destruction in the process.

Unfortunately, wisdom is in short supply.

This retort arrived (2 Dec 2004, 6:32 PM):

Persons with liberal tendencies do indeed dominate higher education and the media. Their failure to 'convert' this country is not due to their incompetence - it is because liberalism is bankrupt.

My final response follows:

Merely repeating the word "bankrupt" doesn't make your case. As Christopher Hitchens once noted, "that what can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence."

If any political ideology can be considered bankrupt, it would be modern conservatism - even if applying the adjective "modern" to the word "conservatism" didn't create an oxymoron. Limiting the discussion solely to their financial bankrupting of our nation (rationalized by the tired recitation of discredited supply-side dogma) still provides more evidence to disprove your thesis than to prove it.

Having been on a nearly unbroken ascent for four full decades, the political Right is at the apex of its power; the Left, having just experienced its "Goldwater moment," is in the midst of some much-needed introspection. The time periods are equal as well: 36 years each from the 1932 New Deal to the 1964 Great Society and from 1968's "secret plan" to end the war in Vietnam to 2004's not-so-secret plan to start wars in the Middle East. (LBJ correctly observed at the time that Democrats' support for civil rights would cost them Southern voters "for at least a generation.")

You can certainly argue (as do many conservatives, neo- and otherwise) that the Busheviks are not truly conservative, and that their endless push for larger, costlier, and more intrusive government is an aberration which does not represent conservative principles. Remember, though, that such a "theory vs. practice" defense is identical to the one with which Soviet apologists were so long tarred and feathered.

I do not doubt that, to you, the media appear to be liberal. All the studies I've seen - and I'm not counting mere collections of anecdotes (such as Bernard Goldberg's books) or outright falsehoods (such as Limbaugh and Coulter) - show quite the opposite. The media outlets that berate themselves for "liberal bias" frequently ignore the facts in favor of sex, lies, and conservative misinformation.

Your thesis that liberals "dominate higher education and the media" requires the credibility-straining supposition that liberals utilize their vast power by publicly demonizing themselves and their own philosophy. That would indeed require incompetence of the highest order, but perhaps a likelier situation more closely corresponds with reality: that the "liberal media" and "liberal academia" myths are created and disseminated to advance a conservative agenda.


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