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The Democrats’ Assault on Freedom of Speech
A Democratic bill seeks to squeeze the last shred of meaning from the First Amendment.

[May 10, 2007]

"Fight the doctrine which slaughters the individual with a doctrine which slaughters the individual." (Ellsworth Toohey, The Fountainhead, p. 669, Centennial edition.)

The gloating, drooling avarice with which the Democrats took possession of Congress should have shocked no one. They took over the House and Senate like a spendthrift heir who had finally won a long-contested lawsuit over the distribution of a decedent’s estate. All their plans for expanding the welfare state and government powers were put on hold for the longest time – they thought – and now they were going to have a feast redirecting the nation’s private wealth and abridging its remaining freedoms as they saw fit – with government force.

They were ready and eager to bulldoze everything to make way for Hillary’s "Village," declaring political eminent domain over the whole country.

The irony is that the man who blocked their agenda for seven years, Republican President George W. Bush, is responsible for having expanded government powers and enlarged the federal debt on such a scale that his administration’s record would turn Franklin D. Roosevelt green with envy. Bush pulled a rabbit out of his hat, in the name of "free enterprise" and other "conservative" values, and did what the Democrats would have given their eyeteeth to do in the name of explicit collectivism, only wholesale. Bush’s social, economic and moral values are certainly not those of the Democrats; they are just different forms of the same things, different expressions and applications of statist and collectivist policies.

It is no accident of political history that the campaign for the White House has begun so prematurely, either. In their hurry to ensure that they win occupancy of it, several of the Democratic Party, notably "Billary" Clinton, announced their candidacies early in the year. The Republicans have responded in kind. Now there are about as many stance-modeled aspirants for Pennsylvania Avenue in each of the parties as pins at the end of a bowling alley.

This is because everyone, Democrat, Republican, Independent, seems to sense – I do not say "know," because that would be giving candidates of either party too much epistemological credit, their "knowledge" is more feral than objective – that the next presidential election will be a make-or-break election: Whichever party seizes the White House, and has a friendly, compliant Congress to work with, will set the future course of the nation. Under the Republicans, the nation has been creeping toward statism and de facto totalitarianism. Under the Democrats, it will gallop towards them and political and economic disaster.

The Republicans have always wanted to experiment with censorship, but what has stymied them is not being able to find a nicer, less scary term for it. In fact, freedom of speech over the airwaves and in some newspapers has allowed them to criticize the liberal left. The abandonment of the "Fairness Doctrine" on the airwaves, instituted by the FCC in 1949 and dropped in 1987 – the failure of government power to coerce a radio or television station to carry "opposing " or "conflicting" viewpoints – has been a boon to especially conservative radio talk show hosts. Until the demise of the Fairness Doctrine, many stations preferred to remain silent on issues rather than attempt to perform the "public service" of presenting opposing positions.

As Adam Thierer observed on the Cato Institute’s TechKnowledge site:

"…The Fairness Doctrine actually stifled the growth of disseminating views and, in effect, made free speech less free. As the FCC noted in repealing the doctrine in 1987, it ‘had the net effect of reducing, rather than enhancing, the discussion of controversial issues of public importance.’" (April 20, 2004)

The Democrats, however, are not so shy about what they want to impose. They want to revive the "Fairness Doctrine" as a means of silencing or muting popular talk show hosts such as Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, and Sean Hannity. Why? Chiefly because these men make more sense to the average listener or viewer and seem to be on the side of reason and right. They give voice to the rational or semi-rational values that many people hold, especially working, productive people who certainly do not hear themselves defended by Democrats, politicians or bureaucrats.

These talk show hosts are as a rule non-politically correct, willing to tackle issues that the politically correct dare not discuss. They are often acerbic and controversial. They practice what the Democrats and liberal lefties claim they want to encourage – debate and the airing of issues. They are competition the Democrats cannot match, not in intellectual content, not in personality.

In short, conservative talk shows are an alternative to and a relief from a news media and intellectual establishment dominated largely by the liberal left. These shows are not mainstream – the liberal left is – but they are a kind of escape from that mainstream, that is, from The New York Times, The Washington Post, National Public Radio, and the major news networks.

The Democrats wish to lock and bolt that door of escape in the name of "diversity" of opinion, and to punish anyone for daring to pry it back open. The Democrats’ charges against "right wing" radio and television ignore two important facts: one, that the liberal left has a virtual monopoly on the news media, and this monopoly of "viewpoints" reaches all the way down to prime time sitcoms; and two, that the liberal left simply hasn’t the same appeal as "right wing" news media.

Rep. Maurice Hinchey, a New York Democrat, sponsored a bill (H.R. 4069, according to the Human Rights Council site, H.R. 3302, according to The Raw Story site) in the House introduced in 2004 called the "Media Ownership Reform Act," which is also sponsored in the Senate by Vermont Senator and Democrat Bernie Sanders. The bill would compel especially radio broadcasters to allow "dissenting opinions" to be aired, whether or not those opinions can find a sponsor and whether or not a broadcaster wishes to air it. But, even if a broadcaster was willing to underwrite, at its own cost, an opinion that dissented from, say, Rush Limbaugh’s viewpoints, what liberal lefty spokesman has the same charisma and forcefulness of delivery as Limbaugh?

The bill claims its purpose is to "amend the Communications Act of 1934 to prevent excessive concentration of ownership of the nation’s media outlets, to restore fairness in broadcasting, and to foster and promote localism, diversity, and competition in the media."

Section 3, 2(a) of the bill reads:

"Public Interest Obligation to Cover Publicly Important Issues – A broadcast licensee shall afford reasonable opportunity for the discussion of conflicting views on issues of public importance. The enforcement and application of the requirement imposed by this subsection shall be consistent with the rules and policies of the Commission in effect on January 1, 1987."

That is the most important wording in the bill. The rest of it is largely complaints about how the broadcast industries reorganized themselves after the lapse of the "Fairness Doctrine" in 1987, and much gobbledygook Congressional patois about "vertical integrations" and the like.

The next most important section of the bill is Section 5: Invalidation of Media Ownership Deregulation, which abrogates the new broadcasting rules adopted in 2003. It reads like Directive 10-289 in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, and even uses 2003 as the "base year."

Further, the bill also hints that the print media – newspapers, magazines, and the like – may be the focus of another bill to regulate reading material, having committed the same "sin" of unregulated "vertical integration" and not serving the "public interest." The desire to break up those "monopolies" is all too apparent in the bill’s language.

The primary, unstated object of the bill is to consign all "opposing" viewpoints to the purgatory of the subjective, to diminish the importance of ideas ("My opinion is as true as yours, but we must let the government decide what is right for the public good"), while the government assumes absolute power over freedom of speech to decide, for example, whether Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage are performing a "public service."

The Democrats, in short, wish to control what Americans hear and say, and to erase all "competition" in ideas. And the best way of ensuring that Americans have no choice is to regulate the means by which they speak and listen.

"All that stuff will end," said Rep. Hinchey at a recent National Conference for Media Reform, reported Insight magazine on May 1st in its May 1-7 online edition. Hinchey and his political ilk are noted for claiming there is a conspiracy to impose fascism on the U.S., a fascism coming from the right. He would strenuously protest any claim that his bill would advance fascism from the only direction it could come: the left.

(The curious thing is that conservative publications such as Insight object to the bill more because it would purportedly champion liberal causes that oppose "traditional," religious ones, than because it would be a further infringement on freedom of speech. "God" is not present in any of the liberal left’s causes; ergo, it must be evil and anti-American. This observation also applies to the second freedom of speech-repressing bill discussed below. One wonders if the First Amendment would fare any better if the country was under the thumb of the Christian right.)

The simplest solution to the "problem" of "media concentration" is for the Federal Communications Commission to auction off the whole broadcasting spectrum to the highest bidders, then be declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court and abolished. As the government should be got out of the economy, it should be prohibited from entering the realm of freedom of speech.

The second major threat to the First Amendment is a bill that has already passed in the House, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007 (H.R. 1343, according to The Traditional Values Coalition site, or H.R. 1592, according to the Human Rights Council site), sponsored by Democrat Rep. John Conyers of Michigan.

This bill would empower the Justice Department to assist local law enforcement agencies in investigating and combating "hate crimes," that is, "violent bias-motivated crimes."

"Federal support, in the form of grants for training or through direct assistance, will ensure all bias-motivated violence is adequately investigated and prosecuted," reports the Human Rights Council site.

Of course, any "violent bias-motivated" crimes should be treated as crimes, period, not as "hate crimes." If one assaulted a Muslim, or a Catholic, or a Baptist simply because that person was a Muslim, Catholic or Baptist, one should be charged with assault on the individual, not on his race or religion. The character attributes of the assailant and victim, including the contents of their minds, are irrelevant. A motive is not a crime, but an action is.

To the statists in our midst, however, that is too simple an idea, too logical, and certainly not collectivist. But since group or tribal collectivism has gained ground in this country – of individuals identifying with a group, race or other collective for their own protection against other groups, or simply as an empowering political expedient – secondary attributes such as gender, creed or "sexual orientation" have entered not only our law courts but political considerations, as well.

American individualism has given way to cipherism.

One of the most enthusiastic supporters of this bill, stalled in Congress since 2001, has been the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). It might be curious that an Islamic organization would endorse a bill that protects homosexuals and other groups that are an anathema to the Islamic creed, such as women, Christians and other religious sects. But the bill would serve to stifle critical commentary of Islam itself.

"Violence," according to CAIR and similar Islamic organizations, includes hurt feelings or offended sensibilities. It would also include "discriminatory" actions against Muslims, such as the removal of the "flying imams" from a Minneapolis plane because other passengers were suspicious of their pre-flight and onboard behavior.

"Support for this legislation is overwhelming," reports the Human Rights Council site, citing law enforcement organizations, the Attorney General, churches, mayors, disabilities advocates, and numerous polls. JihadWatch reported, "The Council on American-Islamic Relations today congratulated the U.S. House of Representatives on its passage of the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act." (May 1st)

Well, of course CAIR would be jubilant. Congress will give it the means to gag all critics of Islam and an invaluable tool for advancing its agenda of submission.

There is no reason to doubt that organizations such as CAIR will sooner or later attempt to include the printed word that criticized Islam as an instance of a "violent bias-motivated" hate crime.

These two bills, if enacted into law, would form a pincer movement that would squeeze the last shred of meaning from the First Amendment.

Edward Cline is the author the Sparrowhawk series of novels set in England and Virginia during the Revolutionary period, the detective novel First Prize, the suspense novel Whisper the Guns and of numerous other published articles, book reviews and essays.


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