Last week, The Washington Post reported on President-elect Barack Obama‘s plan to convert his campaign’s massive digital database of millions of supporters’ contact and background data into a location that will permit him to legally use that data as a tool of persuasion for his governing effort. The Post accurately characterized it as the most important presidential exploitation of a new technology for political purposes since FDR used the then new radio technology to talk to, persuade and galvanize for his political advantage the American public back in the 1930s.
As someone who did political communications and policy work on Ronald Reagan‘s White House staff, I can only be admiring of the tremendous political power that these new tools place in Mr. Obama’s hands. We spent our years constantly trying to get Mr. Reagan’s message to the public without having to go through the distorting lens of the Washington press corps. We made huge efforts to try to communicate with specific segments of the public.
If we could have merely pressed a button and made immediate, direct, unfiltered contact with tens of millions of our strongest supporters (or any and all demographically and politically sliced and diced pieces of them), I would have thought I had gone to political operative heaven.
Of course, what would have been heaven for us would have been hell for the political opposition. But if we Reaganites didn’t have such a technology, our Democratic opposition didn’t have any technology of their own, either - so at least it was a fair fight. (Although the conventional Washington media leaned toward the Democrats.)
But today, the conservative opposition to liberalism (in all its political, academic, and media guises) at least has talk radio as a strong voice to our constituencies that has helped balance the advantage the liberals get from mainstream media bias. And we would have that technology to help counter the communicating power of Mr. Obama’s new mechanisms.
So it is a political fact of the highest significance that the Democratic Party leaders - and perhaps the politically shrewd president-elect himself - want to legally kill conservative talk radio by reinstituting the deceptively misnamed “Fairness Doctrine” (or perhaps the equally lethal to conservative talk-radio doctrine of localism).
If they succeed at the foregoing they would come dangerously close to silencing their political opposition. Such a calculated stacking of the political communications deck would, functionally, constitute an even more effective act of repressing dissent than Woodrow Wilson’s World War I policy of putting war dissenters in prison.
For most of our history, and until very recently, it was more often than not American liberals who stood in the watchtowers to defend dissent - both theoretically and functionally (e.g., Emerson, Thoreau, Lucy Stone, Frederick Douglass, Mother Jones, Maurice Garvey, Woody Guthrie, Martin Luther King Jr., Caesar Chavez, Abbie Hoffman, Cindy Sheehan).
However, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was asked at a Christian Science -Monitor press breakfast in June whether she would support efforts to keep the talk-radio-killing-Fairness Doctrine from being re-established, she replied that “the interest in my caucus is the reverse” and that New York Democratic Rep. “Louise Slaughter has been active behind this [revival of the Fairness Doctrine] for a while now.” “Do you personally support revival of the ‘Fairness Doctrine?’ ” she was asked. “Yes,” she replied.
Now, there is no ambiguity about this issue. The Fairness Doctrine would require every show to be balanced in its political opinion - thus ending the viability of any business plans for a successful, either liberal or conservative, radio host. But, because almost all successful talk radio shows are conservative, liberal Democrats are trying to kill it. They have been explicit. They say they want to take Rush Limbaugh’s voice off radio, along with the other leading conservatives.
For sheer shabbiness and moral squalor it is hard to improve on Mrs. Pelsoi’s revealing words: “The interest in my caucus is the reverse.” She offers not even an obeisance to a principled argument. Just the raw political fact that free speech and dissent via talk radio is not in the “interest” of her parliamentary “caucus.”
The downward path of liberalism can be charted from the martyr’s sacrifice of King to the political bully’s grunt of Mrs. Pelosi. Liberalism, once the champion of man’s noblest human instinct for political freedom, is now just a self-admitted machine for power accumulation.
I suppose the rotating of liberalism and conservatism into the power of national office gives each cause the opportunity, in its turn, to re-learn the honor of defending dissent in a representative republic such as ours. Now it is the turn of the conservatives. So, as the liberals leave the watchtowers of freedom, conservatives are taking up our duty.
Among the new occupants in the watchtower is the Media Research Center, which has formed the Free Speech Alliance to defend dissent by organizing a grass roots opposition to the re-enactment of the Fairness Doctrine.
Tony Blankley is a syndicated columnist.