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Wednesday, October 03, 2007 

Shut Up!

Is it just me or is everyone currently hellbent on shutting everyone else up?

First General Wesley Clark wants to get Rush Limbaugh pulled from Armed Forces Radio over the "phony soldiers" imbroglio. Check out the video in the link. He thinks it's a good idea for Congress to step in, make judgment calls about the "propriety" of discourse on public broadcasts, and yank Rush. Tucker Carlson points out that the same standard won't be applied to PBS and NPR, entities that routinely broadcast opinions (opinions that many people disagree with or find downright offensive). Clark claims that the standards would be applied consistently. Clark fails to understand that he's calling for judgment calls that are subjective in nature. The majority in Congress (which, I should remind the Democrats, does change over time) will have free reign to pull commentators from public broadcasts just because they disagree with the propriety of the content. This is just screaming to be abused.

In the video clip, Clark even goes as far to say that political discourse should be "rated." "I'd like to see A-rated, B-rated, C-rated political discourse," sayeth the General. I used to have a favorite saying, "You'd have to go to college to come up with an idea that stupid." Well, you'd have to be a Rhodes Scholar to come up with an idea this stupid.

Next, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is targeting Michael Savage. The Board tried to pass a resolution condemning him for hate speech. They are up in arms about Savage's comments about illegal aliens. I don't know for sure, but I'm betting that Savage is against them. Just a hunch. The resolution would've passed, but something happened...
The only thing that stops resolution from passing is a San Franciscan by the name of Ed Jew (an American-Asian) vetoes the vote. Not only that, but Jew had the stones to stand up and defend Savage's First Amendment right to free expression. If only such a person existed in Washington DC - on either side - we'd all be better off.

Jew said, "For the record, I do not agree with comments allegedly made by Mr. Savage, but the First Amendment gives him the right to make those comments."
How refreshing to hear such an obvious point said in public.
Refreshing indeed. But, of course, it didn't go unanswered...
[San Francisco Supervisor Gerardo] Sandoval responded with a personal challenge to Jew. "If this commentary was directed at the Chinese-American or the Asian community, you would not be resorting to this rigid formalism on your part," he said.
...which is about as school-yard and knee-jerk as it gets. David Harsanyi responds...
I have no idea if Jew would adhere to ideological and political consistency if his own ethnicity were attacked daily on the radio. But I do know Sandoval's comment gives us a peek into the mindset of many officials these days. To them, freedom is no longer a priority. Not if it offends them.
And for the sake of consistency, I should mention that I think that the Congressional condemnation of the MoveOn.org General Patraeus ad was as unnecessary as the San Fran/Savage resolution.

Even though I talk about these incidents together, I think there is a distinction between simple condemnations (although Daniel A. Horowitz sees some legal issues with the San Fran one) and Clark's proposal. The condemnations can be viewed simply as more speech in the free marketplace of ideas, where Clark's proposal would get Congress into the business of removing speech based on its content. Is it really so bad that Congress or the San Francisco Board speak on an issue? After all, they are just adding another viewpoint to public discourse. Well, maybe there is something bad about it. Prof. Timothy Zick thinks so...
There are three problems, although as I say no technical First Amendment violation has occurred. As a matter of bedrock First Amendment principle, we expect the government to maintain neutrality with regard to political expression. Institutional condemnation of this sort, as opposed to individual statements of displeasure or disgust, violates that principle. Second,and relatedly, as you note the Senate's voice is a "powerful" one. Given its power, the Senate can distort the marketplace of ideas. Finally, this form of public condemnation may have the effect of chilling expression on matters of public concern. That will surely not be the case with respect to MoveOn.org, which seems quite pleased to have the attention of the Senate and the President. But speakers with different agendas may quite understandably wish to avoid irritating the Senate with their own sharp attacks -- even if what they have to say is fully protected expression.
Maybe the condemnations and Clark's "Congressional censor" solution are BOTH bad, just different degrees of bad. Zick may be right on this one. I reserve my right to change my mind on this.

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  • From Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States
  • "There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences." P.J. O'Rourke
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