[To learn more about the Freedom Center's recent victory over the Left's censorship attempt, and its call for a coalition across party and ideological lines to defend free speech, click here.]
Michael Ledeen is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center and Freedom Scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
We’re rightly upset at the censorship of the big social media platforms, and our morale wasn’t improved when something north of three hundred newspapers wrote editorials in virtual unison, or when Mastercard, in cahoots with the Southern Poverty Law Center, attempted to shut down our Center. Thankfully, we won and they lost. But the efforts to silence conservative spokesmen seem to be intensifying, which makes strategic political sense to me. If you can’t win an argument on the merits, then either discredit or silence your opponents.
The Left has lost most of the substantive arguments—from health care to taxation, from foreign policy to defense spending--and their best political chance is to silence the opposition. This campaign rages throughout the society, from social media to the educational system, from publishers to movie makers.
There is seemingly no limit to their zeal in silencing their opponents, even to changing our Constitutional system. Did you know that the Democratic Party is on record against the First Amendment? Officially, publicly, and, in the United States Senate, unanimously. They tried to rewrite it in 2014, and introduced a Constitutional Amendment that would have enabled federal and state governments to prohibit various kinds of political spending, broadcasting or publishing.
This remarkable measure, which flew in the face of the Bill of Rights and the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, had no chance of being approved by the requisite majorities in Congress and the states. It was, therefore, a purely political maneuver, laying down a marker for voters and opinion-makers. Still, the numbers are astonishing: 49 Senators voted for it, and not one—not a single one—voted to preserve the First Amendment.
It gets worse. Outraged by the Democratic stance against freedom of speech and press, Senator Ted Cruz introduced his own amendment, which consisted of the First Amendment itself. Once again, the numbers were remarkable. Not a single Democrat voted for it, either in committee or in the full Senate.
So the Democrats have put us on notice: they are fully prepared to undo the First Amendment if they gain enough political power to accomplish it. Cruz aptly calls them “Fahrenheit 451 Democrats,” after the book by Ray Bradbury featuring book-burning “firemen,” and one couldn’t ask for a better label.
As Senator Cruz observed:
When Justice Anthony Kennedy asked the Department of Justice if the Obama administration was truly arguing that, according to the Constitution, book sales could be prohibited, the Justice official replied, yes, “if the book contained the functional equivalent of express advocacy.”
That was a shocking exchange. The government made an unabashed argument for the government being able to stop a book from being sold.
That’s what silencing your opponents is all about.
Did you expect them to engage in an open debate? They regard that as a sucker’s game, because they invariably lose. Far better, if your mission is to win elections, to peddle your ideology without fear of contradiction.
Most Americans don’t realize that the Democrats are quite willing to undo the Bill of Rights, ban books, and block conservative ideas in all possible ways. It seems preposterous in a society as wide open and enthusiastically contentious as ours, and yet, in many ways, they are succeeding. Silencing dissent is blatantly rampant in the printed and virtual media, the schools, the movies, even book publishing.
What to do? My impression is that the tide is turning, as censorship becomes more visibly absurd. When an 8-year old gets punished in a schoolroom for calling his teacher “ma’am” the censors have crossed a line—good manners are now banned—I believe most Americans want preserved. The remedy is political, and therefore local: replace the censors, throughout the society, and at all levels, with tolerant people. We need new school boards, new directors at universities, new directors and managers at social media companies, and new representatives in Congress and the Senate who will reject the calls of the Fahrenheit 451 Democrats. Turn the November elections into a referendum on the First Amendment. Throw out the anti-American censors, let’s vote for a free society.
Or lose it.
Yes, this sounds like the Tea Party all over again. As well it should. The censors shut down the Tea Party when they saw their domination challenged, and used the instruments of power—notably the IRS—to paralyze the movement. I don’t think Trump’s IRS would do the same (although his inability to properly staff his administration is often very unsettling). So it’s a good time to challenge the censors, restore free speech to its rightful place, and restore real debate, on the urgent matters that we must deal with, to the mainstream.
Remember, the Left is trying to silence us because they lose the debate. Most every time.