Free speech is such a fundamental principle in the United States that it was codified by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The First Amendment protects all speech, especially political speech that criticizes the government or proposes unpopular or obnoxious ideas. The Founding Fathers recognized that unfettered political discourse is the sine qua non of a successful democracy. It is necessary to publicly discuss all sides of issues that may result in laws that affect all Americans.
While the First Amendment protects speech, it does not protect the speaker from the consequences of his speech. Thus, the proponent of unpopular ideas sometimes subjects himself to economic and social sanctions from political opponents who choose not to engage him in challenging responsive discourse. When this happens, it tends to chill discussion and inhibit new ideas.
John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods, found this out the hard way. Mr. Mackey wrote an Op-Ed piece for the Wall Street Journal in mid-August suggesting a number of health care reforms that do not entail a single-payer public option. He opened the article with a provocative quote from Margaret Thatcher that was bound to offend the far left: "The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money."
He followed this quote with a number of constructive and rational health care reforms that will not be repeated in this article. He then undermined the legal authority of the far left with a strict-construction reading of the U.S. Constitution.
"A careful reading of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution will not reveal any intrinsic right to health care ... because there isn't any."
How could the Founding Fathers forget to give Americans a right to health care? Well, if the liberal wing of the Supreme Court could find a "right" to abortion in the Constitution through Roe v. Wade, these creative jurists may also find a "right" to health care in some future case. But liberals must wait for another Sonia Sotomayor to join the liberal wing of the court before this hidden constitutional right is found.
Since no constitutional basis for health care exists at this time, President Obama recently asked clergy attending a conference to proselytize to their congregations a moral and religious obligation to support his version of health care reform. While the liberal mainline Protestant clergy and Reform Jewish rabbis will undoubtedly agree with the president, he will have a harder time convincing Catholics and evangelical Protestants.
Fortunately, Mr. Mackey kept religion out of the discussion of health care reform. Perhaps Mr. Mackey's biggest offense is that he suggested that Americans, not a nanny state, should be responsible for their own health by making healthy lifestyle choices.
"Rather than increase governmental spending and control, what we need to do is address the root causes of disease and poor health. This begins with the realization that every American adult is responsible for their own health ... Most of the diseases which are ... killing us ... are mostly preventable through proper diet, exercise, not smoking, minimal or no alcohol consumption, and other healthy lifestyle choices."
Statistics on Americans' lifestyle choices speak for themselves. Two-thirds of Americans are overweight. Twenty-one percent of Americans smoke. Less than two-thirds of American adults get recommended minimum weekly exercise. You do not have to be a dietitian to realize that many Americans have unhealthy diets.
Unfortunately, Americans cannot blame McDonald's, Philip Morris USA and TV for their poor health. This is a free country, and Americans have the right to choose a healthy or unhealthy lifestyle. To paraphrase Michael Jackson, it is "the Man in the Mirror" that is responsible for many of America's health problems and costs.
Whole Foods is a supermarket chain that emphasizes healthy, organic and fresh foods. Needless to say, many of Whole Foods' customers are liberal Democrats. In response to Mr. Mackey's Op-Ed piece, a number of liberal bloggers called for a boycott of Whole Foods because the CEO does not share their left-wing ideology.
Russell Mokhiber, a leader of the Whole Foods boycott, in an interview on Fox News said, "[Mackey]'s against single-payer ... I think it makes him a bad guy."
Even though Mr. Mackey agrees that health care reform is desirable, he is a bad buy because he disagrees with Mr. Obama's version of single-payer health care reform. This is a scary political trend when people are considered "bad" merely because they disagree with their opponents' political solution to health care reform. This is not a way to promote discourse on health care reform.
Liberalism has a long and admirable history of being open-minded and tolerant. Organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union pride themselves on defending free speech from all sides of the political spectrum. Liberal academics in America's universities defend the tenure system because it enables professors to express unpopular views. The liberal media jealously defend their special role in the Fourth Estate to expose and criticize government policy because it is essential to freedom in a democracy.
Therefore, it is disappointing, but perhaps not unexpected, that some closed-minded liberals are boycotting Whole Foods because the CEO proposed constructive discourse that was not part of the liberal Democratic Party line. Mr. Mackey's real offense is that he cannot find a right to health care in the Constitution and proposes that individuals take some responsibility for their lifestyle choices. His solution to health care reform does not conform to Obama Care.
The liberal establishment has made it clear. If you do not follow the party line in a liberal institution or one serving liberals, you will be penalized for free speech that contradicts liberal orthodoxy. The case of Mr. Mackey is the most recent evidence that American liberalism has morphed into intolerance toward competing ideas. America will lose great ideas in the long run if the presenter of unorthodox ideas is penalized.
"The Armstrong Williams Show" is broadcast weeknights on XM Satellite's Power 169 channel from 9 to 10 p.m.