Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical Left and Islamic terrorism.
Obama is busy shilling for his book, A Promised Land, for which the American imprint of a subsidiary of a German publishing giant with a Nazi past, is paying him a fortune. And that means sitting down with his favorite shill, The Atlantic’s editor Jeffrey Goldberg, whose book was published by the same giant, for some pseudo-intellectual preening at America’s expense.
As usual, he has deep thoughts about why everyone who disagrees with him needs to shut up.
“The First Amendment doesn’t require private companies to provide a platform for any view that is out there. At the end of the day, we’re going to have to find a combination of government regulations and corporate practices that address this,” Obama fussily declaims.
The corporate practices by Big Tech companies that shut down Biden scandals are already in place. Government regulations to get rid of free speech are new, but not new for Obama.
Obama had become infamous for having the producer of The Innocence of Muslims thrown into prison after the disaster in Benghazi. “We’re going to have that person arrested and prosecuted that did the video,” Hillary Clinton would tell the father of one of the men killed there, as if a YouTube video had killed Americans and then dragged their bodies through the streets of Libya.
Obama’s DOJ seized phone records from reporters, dug through their emails, and followed them around. But the whole point of Big Tech censorship is that Democrats avoid pesky constitutional issues by outsourcing the censorship to huge corporate monopolies. The practice of calling in CEOs to the Senate to berate them about insufficient censorship should raise some constitutional questions about an oligarchy colluding to suppress political speech.
But it hasn’t yet.
What would Obama’s speech police look like? He has nothing to say about that, just more deep thoughts about how impossible it is to have a democracy if people keep disagreeing with you.
“If we do not have the capacity to distinguish what’s true from what’s false, then by definition the marketplace of ideas doesn’t work. And by definition our democracy doesn’t work,” he fumes.
But the whole point of a “marketplace of ideas” is that people decide that for themselves. If people don’t decide for themselves, there’s no marketplace of ideas, and no democracy. And in a democracy and a marketplace of ideas, people will disagree about what’s true or what isn’t.
If the government decides for people what’s true or false, then there’s no marketplace. Or rather there’s just the Soviet supermarket where there’s one option and you had better learn to like it.
The Democrat argument that a government and a society can’t function if people are allowed to choose ‘falsely’ has been widely accepted by an illiberal liberal elite who all sound like medieval theocrats or Communist bureaucrats musing about the impossibility of intellectual coexistence.
Obama, despite his Harvard and Yale backgrounds, his fondness for dropping “epistemological” right after “marketplace of ideas” has no actual idea what these terms mean. And doesn’t care.
The term “marketplace of ideas” comes from an opinion by Justice William O. Douglas in United States v. Rumely. The issue at stake had been an investigation of an anti-New Deal publisher by Senate Democrats who had demanded to know the names of those who bought his books.
“Respondent represents a segment of the American press. Some may like what his group publishes; others may disapprove,” Douglas wrote. “Like the publishers of newspapers, magazines, or books, this publisher bids for the minds of men in the market place of ideas.”
The First Amendment was based on “the confidence that the safety of society depends on the tolerance of government for hostile as well as friendly criticism, that in a community where men’s minds are free, there must be room for the unorthodox as well as the orthodox views.”
A marketplace of ideas requires trusting free minds to have different points of view.
What Obama is actually saying is that the whole concept of a marketplace of ideas doesn’t work. A marketplace of ideas doesn’t work because some people will draw conclusions he disagrees with. And democracy, which he defines as Democrat rule, can’t function that way.
“I can have an argument with you about what to do about climate change. I can even accept somebody making an argument that, based on what I know about human nature, it’s too late to do anything serious about this,” Obama rambles on. “I don’t know what to say if you simply say, ‘This is a hoax that the liberals have cooked up, and the scientists are cooking the books.’”
“Where do I start trying to figure out where to do something?” he concludes.
It’s a remarkable admission for a law school graduate, a community organizer, a politician who got to the highest job in the land by promising to bring the country together, to confess that he has no idea how to talk to half the country and can’t imagine even figuring out how to do it.
The confession here is an extraordinary indictment not only of Obama, but of an entire political class which can’t even imagine how to talk to someone who disagrees with its premises.
What Obama is really saying is that he can discuss global warming with someone who agrees with his premise, but disagrees with his proposed solution, that is to say a fellow lefty. He can’t however even understand how to discuss the issue with someone who rejects his premise.
The marketplace of ideas, in Obama’s mind and that of his political class, is there so that smart progressives can discuss the best way to tackle global warming, racism, or socialized medicine.
The same lefty elite that elevated Obama is unable to understand how to talk to someone who rejects any of its premises, for example, that America isn’t racist, that socialism isn’t the answer, or that its entire worldview is destructive and wrong. So it wants to censor it instead.
That was the mindset of the New Dealers that Justice William O. Douglas had criticised when he coined the term, “marketplace of ideas” and warned of the “menace of the shadow which government will cast over literature that does not follow the dominant party line” should Democrats continue pursuing their efforts to get around the law to censor the opposition.
A marketplace of ideas is a place where people disagree not just about the details of an approved worldview, but about the worldviews themselves. A marketplace of ideas that encompasses only a party platform is not a marketplace, it’s a socialist dumpster.
The trouble with Douglas’ metaphor for a socialist is right there in the concept.
Justice Douglas was using the metaphor of the free market, but the New Dealers and the Old Dealer socialists of today don’t believe in a free market. When Obama thinks of a marketplace, he thinks of the Obamacare marketplace which offered a variety of similar options that adhered to the same set of government regulations overseen by his administration. His marketplace of ideas are minor variations on the same thing that have already been cleared and approved.
But that’s not a marketplace of ideas. It’s a socialist distribution point of talking points.
Ideas are big things. A marketplace of ideas is full of stalls that challenge each other’s premises. And that’s what Obama and his allies are trying to censor out of existence by any means.
Obama’s argument, that some things should not be discussed or debated, would strike a sympathetic chord with many readers of The Atlantic, a publication subsidized by Steve Jobs’ widow, a major lefty donor, and the rest of the media landscape, but it doesn’t work for a country. It’s all very well for Manhattanites and San Franciscans to declare that they can’t even understand how to talk to Alabamans and Alaskans and shouldn’t even have to try.
And then someone like President Trump comes down an escalator and their entire world shakes. Their polls keep being proven wrong and new movements arise that they don’t understand. All their philosophizing about “democracy” and the “marketplace of ideas” is an echo chamber that shuts out much of the country and then tries to shut it down.
And the only way to really do that is through escalating levels of force and then violence.
Sharing a country with people whose premises you disagree with and whose worldviews you can’t even grasp is challenging. That was why America was such a bold experiment. And why Obama’s pathetic blotivations are an embarrassment to its greatness and its noble heritage.
There’s no challenge in running a country where everyone agrees. And Obama isn’t interested in challenges. Neither are the Democrats still reeling from an electoral beating. If they had paid closer attention, the Latino voters in Texas and Florida who turned them down, the black and Jewish voters who came out for President Trump, wouldn’t have come as such a shock.
The problem with echo chambers is that you have no idea what’s going on outside them.
Just ask King George III, the kings of France, or Czar Nicholas II. The virtue of a free country is that elections and arguments break up echo chambers. A marketplace of ideas may be discordant, chaotic, and include views that are false or terrible, but it keeps a society fresh and dynamic, instead of allowing it to ossify into an inbred oligarchy echoing its own idiocy.
Just ask Obama. But don’t expect him to understand the question or a marketplace of ideas.
A socialism of ideas is as doomed as any other kind of socialism. When an oligarchy tries to choke the life out of the marketplace of ideas, it destroys the society and its own future.