- The Washington Times - Monday, June 23, 2014

Liberal progressives have in recent years all but abandoned the American belief in free speech and the First Amendment in favor of shutting down those with whom they disagree. The president pointedly announces that critics of Obamacare or his climate-change policies ought to shut up because “the debate is over.” His supporters in Congress are actually proposing amending the Constitution to eliminate First Amendment protection of political speech and the Internal Revenue Service not only to harass those with whom they and their president disagree, but urges the Justice Department to prosecute those who voice a different view.

Last week Hillary Clinton, a prospective candidate for the presidency, told an interviewer who asked about gun control that “we cannot let a minority of people hold a viewpoint that terrorizes the majority of people.” This is a dangerous, but unexceptional statement coming from a 21st century liberal progressive. She, like the president she hopes to succeed, begins by describing the facts as she wishes they were and then attempts to dehumanize and demonize those with whom she disagrees as terrorists whose ability to express views contrary to her own shouldn’t be tolerated lest they mislead others.

Mrs. Clinton in this interview was talking about those who support the Second Amendment, but others on the left have suggested that “global warming deniers” should be silenced and even jailed as enemies of the planet. In their view, those with whom they disagree need not and should not be tolerated — nor should they be allowed to teach, run private corporations or speak at high school and college commencement ceremonies. Those who hold views other than their own are never simply wrong, badly informed or misguided, but evil, dangerous and corrupt.

This hostility toward the free-speech guarantees written into our Constitution and the Founders’ concern for the rights of minorities as well as majorities may be traceable to the fact that they are the philosophical sons and daughters of the French rather than American Revolution and the belief that minorities should be allowed only to the extent that majorities decide not to send them to the guillotine.

Where possible, liberal progressives have attempted to use the state to silence their critics or to criminalize political speech and activity with which they disagree. Last week, the U.S. Justice Department ordered an FBI investigation into the decision of Virginia Democratic Sen. Phillip P. Puckett to resign his seat because his resignation gave control of the state Senate to Republicans and thwarted the Commonwealth’s new liberal progressive governor’s plans. Even Virginia Democrats expressed amazement at the federal government’s overreach as Mr. Puckett has been forced to hire a team of attorneys, and his name is being dragged through the mud by an ideologically driven federal law enforcement agency.

In Wisconsin, the state’s liberal progressives regurgitated allegations against Gov. Scott Walker that had already been laughed out of both state and federal courts, with the partisan media reporting the charges as if they have been made as part of a serious ongoing investigation. The New York Times inferred in a Page One report that the governor is believed to be the mastermind behind a criminal conspiracy rather than the victim of baseless partisan allegations that had been debunked and dismissed by the two courts.

The allegations were included in materials released along with hundreds of pages of other documents that were a part of a partisan “John Doe” investigation launched by Democratic prosecutors following the unsuccessful 2012 recall campaign against Mr. Walker, a Republican. The allegations were included in a motion made by one of these prosecutors in December of 2013 and thrown out on Jan. 4 by the judge in the case who said in his decision that the prosecutor had “failed to show probable cause that a crime had been committed.”

What’s more, the documents on which The New York Times and other stories were based were released at the request of Walker supporters to put the silliness of what the prosecutors were trying to do to the governor on the public record. None of this stopped the newspaper and other progressive publications from twisting the story into something it wasn’t in an attempt to damage a possible 2016 Walker run for the White House.

It should be no surprise that Wisconsin progressives are at the forefront of the most overt drive to criminalize the activities of their opponents as Badger state leftists have always been more blatantly transparent about their motives and desires than others. A reporter recently asked Madison’s leftist mayor about Republican charges that he is demanding the reporting of all political activities and contributions of individuals and corporations seeking city contracts for the sole purpose of punishing his opponents and rewarding his friends. Obama administration officials proposed imposing similar requirements on federal contractors, then vehemently denied they would use the information thus gathered to punish those critical of the president. Madison Mayor Paul Soglin bragged that this is exactly what he intends.

Such intolerance is hardly new, but it has never found such acceptance among so many supposedly mainstream politicians. In the late 1960s as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin, I debated the Vietnam War with a leftist member of the Madison City Council. When I finished my opening remarks my opponent stepped to the microphone to announce that while he wouldn’t dignify anything I had just said with a response, he could promise that “come the revolution” I would be among the first executed as an enemy of the people.

Conservatives were able to laugh at such rhetoric then because the left didn’t control the police, prosecutors or the FBI, and besides, the jealous guardians of free speech in the media and among our elected officials of both parties would never allow their fantasies out of the fever swamps.

But that was then.

David A. Keene is opinion editor of The Washington Times.