Free Speech Smackdown

California Democrats toss state senator Janet Nguyen for comments on Tom Hayden.

On Tuesday, February 21, California’s senate Democrats memorialized the late Tom Hayden, a former state senator, husband of Jane Fonda, and leading figure in the New Left. On Thursday, February 23, southern California Republican Janet Nguyen rose to speak, first in Vietnamese, then English.

“Today I recognize in memory the millions of Vietnamese and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese refugees who died in seeking for freedom and democracy,” she said. “On Tuesday you had an opportunity to honor Sen. Tom Hayden. With all due respect, I would like to offer this historical perspective. . . ”

As the Sacramento Bee reported, at that point Sen. Ricardo Lara, Bell Gardens Democrat, cut off Nguyen, who continued to speak even after Democrats shut off her microphone. When she refused an order to take a seat, Lara had Nguyen “forcibly removed” by the Sergeant at Arms. The Democrats also shut down the feed to the California Channel, preventing viewers statewide from hearing Nguyen’s statement. Senate Republicans called it a violation of free speech, but it was more than that.

“He [Hayden] was one of the great visionaries. He was a guy with a lot of courage.” That was John Burton, a former senator and California Democratic Party Chairman, one of several prominent Democrats cited in Patrick McGreevey’s Los Angeles Times report on the February 21 Hayden memorial.

“He was a maverick. He was an independent thinker. He was an intellectual. He was a true progressive. He dedicated his life to the betterment of our state and our great country through the pursuit of peace, justice and equity.” That was the current senate Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, Los Angeles Democrat.

“He was a rabble-rouser,” said senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, Santa Barbara Democrat. He was raising hell about this war.” That requires some explanation and the Democrats’ tribute bears little if any resemblance to the real Tom Hayden, especially in regard to Vietnam.

The conflict pitted the Communist North, backed by the Soviet Union, against the non-Communist South, backed by the United States. Many Americans opposed U.S. involvement in the conflict, for a variety of reasons.

Many questioned whether, based on American interests, the United States needed to be involved, and on that people of good faith could differ. The United States intervened on the basis of its post-World War II containment doctrine, shared by Republicans and Democrats. As John F. Kennedy put it, the USA would “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty,” then under assault from Communist imperialism.

Some questioned whether young Americans should be conscripted to fight, arguing for an all-volunteer military. Many others, such as Martin Luther King’s colleague Richard John Neuhaus, protested the way the USA conducted the conflict. As Neuhaus and other activists learned, some of those in the so-called anti-war movement were not against war in principle, just opposed to U.S. involvement in the conflict.

Beyond that, Tom Hayden wanted the National Liberation Front (NLF), backed by North Vietnam, to win. As the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) chant had it “Ho, Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh, the NLF is gonna win.” The North Vietnamese Stalinists were so grateful, they used Tom Hayden in other creative ways.

The North deployed Soviet surface-to-air missiles and shot down American pilots, including Fred Cherry, an African-American who endured torture during his seven years as a prisoner of war. So did Lee Ellis, author of Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton, in which he described American POWs kept in cages and punished with tortures such as the “pretzel.”  The POW’s legs were tied together and arms laced tightly behind his back until the elbows touched. Then the torturer would push the bound arms up and over the head. But the torture wasn’t all physical.

The captors piped in propaganda and, Ellis explains, “the afternoon broadcasts were especially disheartening because they featured Americans spouting words that could have been written for them in Moscow and Hanoi.” American Tom Hayden “was a regular speaker,” later joined by his wife “film star Jane Fonda.” For this pair, American POWs were war criminals and their reports of torture were lies.

In 1973, the United States pulled out of Vietnam but Tom Hayden did not oppose the war that continued. When the Soviet tanks of the North rolled into Saigon, Hayden cheered their victory, a fulfillment of the SDS chant. Then he turned his wrath on those fleeing the “re-education” camps of a Stalinist regime more repressive than its Soviet sponsors.

The Communist regime renamed Saigon Ho Chi Minh City, the birthplace of Janet Nguyen in 1976. Her family joined the fleeing “boat people,” but as she told George Skelton of the Los Angeles Times, “every time my parents attempted to escape, my father would be put in prison.” The regime jailed her mother after her father and brother fled to Thailand.

Janet, her mother and sister eventually made to Thailand. She made it to California at the age of 5 in 1981. In 2014 she became the first Vietnamese American state senator in U.S. history. On February 23, 2017, Janet Nguyen was speaking the truth from experience. So little mystery why the California Democrats had to smack her down.

Senator Nguyen’s only misstatement was “with all due respect” because Tom Hayden deserves not the slightest respect from anyone. He should be remembered as the Uncle Tom of totalitarianism, and the man who provided the soundtrack for Communist torture sessions of American POWs.

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