At first the liberal Democrats were coy about reports they wanted to impose government control on talk radio. When it was reported New York's Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton had discussed the matter with California's Sen. Barbara Boxer, both denied it. That is characteristic. They lied to the public.
Now the Democrats admit to this assault on the First Amendment. There was no point in continuing to lie when it was time to take action against the Rush Limbaughs of this world. Washington's energetic newspaper covering the federal government, the Hill, has quoted Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin as saying: "It's time to reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine. I have this old-fashioned attitude that when Americans hear both sides of the story, they're in a better position to make a decision."
Well, at least he admits he is old-fashioned. Unfortunately for him, history really has moved on. The so-called Fairness Doctrine, used for years to keep diversity off the airways, was instituted when all we had in the communications system was radio and fledgling television. Perhaps in those days it was admissible to believe there were only two sides to a "story," as Mr. Durbin puts it. Today there are many sides to stories, and no government body is equipped to judge what should be on the broadcast media and what is too marginal.
In other words, government ought not to decide what the sides are in a debate. That is anathema to free debate. Moreover, we now have cable television, AM and FM radio, Internet sites, blogs, satellite radio, and more communications systems oncoming. Does Mr. Durbin really envisage a government regulatory agency that could fairly monitor all these sources, all these voices, and not become totalitarian?
I have said for years that American liberals live in a bubble, an exalted state of megalomania that does not allow them access to the world as it is or to people who disagree with them. The consequence has been a historic slide in liberalism's place in America. It has been losing the political battle for four decades. Now it is slowly losing the cultural battle.
The cultural losses have been slower because the culture is under the control of mandarins, not the people as a whole. Wherever democracy — or the economic equivalent of democracy, markets — holds sway, liberalism usually loses.
This effort by liberals to limit free speech by imposing government control over radio and presumably over television reveals just how out of touch the liberals are — and how impatient they are with a free society. They would use the so-called Fairness Doctrine to order talk radio to balance conservative talkers whom listeners have voted for by tuning them in with presumed liberal talkers, whom listeners have usually voted against by tuning them out.
Air America, the liberal alternative to conservative talkers, endowed by millions of dollars from liberal investors, went belly up last fall because not enough listeners wanted to listen. Now Mr. Durbin and his ilk will force listeners to listen, or at least will force talk radio to carry these money-losing talkers.
So our liberal bullies are going to coerce free speech and free markets. Now who doubts they are the enemies of freedom in America?
I suspect a large number of Americans will be roused against this blatant act of coercion. Conservatives who number in the millions have already voted for conservative talk radio and will not want to lose their voices on radio or their right to tune in whom they chose.
Independents will recognize the harshness of the liberal politician's expedience and the assault on the First Amendment. Perhaps some liberals, too, will recognize the threat to traditional American freedoms.
The fact is history's wheel has ground on. There are so many outlets for free expression. No government agency ought to be put in control. Let the people decide, the listeners, the viewers, the bloggers too.
R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is the founder and editor in chief of the American Spectator, a contributing editor to the New York Sun and an adjunct scholar at the Hudson Institute. His book "The Clinton Crack-Up: The Boy President's Life After the White House" has just been published by Thomas Nelson.