- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 29, 2001

From college campuses to Capitol Hill, the First Amendment and the political freedoms it safeguards is under attack.
On campus, student journalists play censor and suppress "offensive" arguments or face campus opprobrium (more on that below). In Washington, lawmakers deliberate "reforms" that would greatly expand the governments power to regulate political communication or answer to Sen. John McCain.
This is a natural step, perhaps, for a legislative body where the once-outlandish notion of infringing on First Amendment speech protections has become a stump staple. John "If I could think of a way constitutionally, I would ban negative ads" McCain, of course, springs to mind as the archetypal "reformer," but as George Will recently wrote, no fewer than 38 senators actually voted in 1997 to amend the First Amendment to impose "reasonable" restrictions on political speech. Congressional minority leader Dick Gephardt has said, "What we have is two important values in direct conflict: freedom of speech and our desire for healthy campaigns in a healthy democracy."
That an American statesman could ever see freedom of speech and "healthy campaigns" in conflict, direct or otherwise, is a sorry development. But its not just the political climate that is increasingly open to setting limits on political communication. So are the nations campuses, where what has turned into a novel campaign to test the limits of free speech, launched by daring conservative author David Horowitz, has shown, with shockingly few exceptions, that the unfettered exchange of political ideas is far less sacred to Americas young and educated than a rigid adherence to prevailing political orthodoxies.
Seeking to engage students in the debate over reparations for slavery, Mr. Horowitz wrote up an advertisement titled "Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Blacks Is a Bad Idea for Blacks and Racist Too" and attempted to place it in more than 50 college newspapers across the country. The ad (full text available at frontpagemag.com) makes its case with a muscular clarity. Mr. Horowitz lists such incontrovertible points as "there is no single group clearly responsible for the crime of slavery" along with more controversial but no less intriguing statements such as "reparations have already been paid" in the form of welfare benefits and racial preferences.
The reaction has been explosive as denunciations and protests have erupted with particular intensity at such campuses as Berkeley, where editors promptly issued a craven apology for running the ad and turning their paper into "a vehicle of bigotry," and Brown, where protesters openly threatened editor Brooks King that "they would make sure that no one would see the paper," as Mr. King recalled, should he refuse their various demands. Admirably, he did refuse and the entire press run was stolen and trashed. Why? Critics claimed the ad was "inflammatory," "racist," and "a direct assault on communities of color." One teaching assistant actually said that students told him "they cant perform basic functions like walking or sleeping because of this ad."
Please. These are words on a page. The way to answer words on a page is with better words on another page. But these young people have not only never learned this basic lesson of democracy, they have never been taught it. Instead, they have learned that feelings are more important than facts; that a sense of grievance is more important than a handle on reality and that it is therefore permissible, if not better, to shout down a provocative argument than to rebut it.
Not surprisingly, the word from the university top has been hopelessly equivocal. "We have two very critical principles, freedom of speech and community values," said Brown interim president Sheila E. Blumstein, sounding a familiar theme (see Dick Gephardts quotation above). "To make it a simplistic argument that you either have to believe in one or the other is incorrect."
So now upholding freedom of speech is "simplistic," just another factor to balance against competing communities and their feelings. Mr. Horowitzs national experiment has brought this ominous reality into sharp relief, and for this he should be well-thanked. It can no longer be ignored that among the nations best and brightest it is widely believed that speech should and must be limited for a greater good or else. Whatever one may call this blinkered vision, it has nothing to do with freedom.


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide