Thursday, January 18, 2007

The New Age of Tolerance

NOT SO TOLERANT TODAY: (clockwise from upper left) Dennis Kucinich,
Duke provost Peter Lange, Heidi Cullen of the Weather Channel, Senate
Majority Leader Harry Reid, and media megastar Keith Olbermann.

THE ULTRA-SECRET TRUTH. The Democrats have been in the majority for only a couple of weeks now, and yet we can already observe the liberal passion for tolerance at work on the national stage. Dennis Kucinich wants to silence conservative talk radio by resurrecting the "Fairness Doctrine." Duke University Provost Peter Lange is of two minds about free speech because bloggers and emailers  insulted the Duke faculty members who solicited campus lynching parties for the accused Lacrosse players. The Weather Channel's Heidi Cullen has proposed "decertifying" all TV weatherman who express public skepticism about Global Warming. Senator Harry Reid tried every low trick in the book to defeat an amendment to the Senate's ethics bill for the purpose of requiring disclosure of  the names of senators sponsoring earmarks. And Keith Olbermann thinks 24 should be taken off the air because it constitutes "naked brainwashing" by evil, fear-mongering neo-cons. (Assorted hat tips to Instapundit, Protein Wisdom, Ace of Spades, La Shawn Barber, Neal Boortz, and Drudge.)

I thought it was Democrats who were the great champions of free speech and full disclosure and the wisdom of ordinary Americans in making up their own minds. No, I didn't really think that, but a lot of you out there do think it, or have convinced yourselves of it, or are lying through your teeth about it. What I'd really like to see is the argument that reconciles all these positions with the repeated claim that liberals have a monopoly on tolerance.

Granted, not all these infractions of the liberal faith are created equal. Harry Reid is not so much intolerant as corrupt. He really thinks freedom of action begins and ends with the majority, no matter how slender.  Keith Olbermann is merely a roman candle of rage, a set of hysterical positions unalloyed to principle. The others are somewhat more interesting and various in their sins against the original (and long lost) liberal tradition.

Heidi Cullen's desire to silence scientific opponents is frankly Stalinist, the more egregiously because she is supposedly a scientist herself, committed to data, reason, and analysis rather than power politics. Compared to such flagrant abuse of professional standards, Kucinich's quest to stamp out the Rush Limbaughs and Sean Hannitys of the world is probably as muddle-headed as it is hypocritical, because liberals have always had tremendous difficulty differentiating the concepts of fairness and freedom. They tend to believe that freedom is inherently unfair and can only flourish when fairness is imposed from above, a priori, by the right sort of people, whereas conservatives tend to believe that freedom promotes fairness as long as no one has the power to rig the rules of competition. In the Kucinich view, the fact that conservatives dominate the AM dial is ipso facto proof that the radio business is unfair. He wants to redress the balance. That his preferred means of doing so constitute censorship is invisible to him. He's so right that there's simply no way he can be wrong.

This is a poor relation to the more grandiloquent posturing we encounter in Peter Lange's epistle on behalf of the Group of 88. He goes out of his way to defend freedom of speech. He says, at various points:

Free speech must continue to be vigorously defended... Regulatory measures—other than individual, self-regulatory ones—are to be excluded.

But he's also genuinely bewildered that so much anger would be freely expressed against faculty members who chose to participate in the suppression of constitutional rights for criminal defendants purely on the basis of race.

When the events of the spring unfolded we witnessed an unimagined intensity of vituperative language and distasteful and deeply hurtful caricatures of Duke students, our campus and its culture, our Durham community and our relationship to our neighbors in the city. The wave of attacks lasted for weeks in the media, on the emails and in the blogs. It was deeply disturbing, in many ways for our students, faculty and whole community. It inflamed and polarized rhetoric on our campus as well. Over the months and with the unfolding of events, these types of attacks have subsided.

Meanwhile some of our faculty, primarily African-American but not only so, have been under repeated attacks in personal emails and in blogs.

When he attempts to apply his massive intellect to the source of his bewilderment, the blogs, his rhetoric becomes as laughable as an ad for Miller Light ("tastes great. No; less filling.") or Certs ("It's a candy mint. No; it's a breath mint."). His own moral universe is so rigid and self-satisfied that he is unable to comprehend duality. He says, for example (and I have elided his argument here somewhat, so by all means read the original to ensure I haven't distorted it):

As we all are aware blogs and email have “democratized” communication; anyone with access to a computer can get in the game as writer or spectator. In many ways this is a very good thing, for it reduces the elitism of “publication” and the control of opinion by opinion “sellers”...

This is a condition of our era...

And here my first concern. I do not believe the extreme of this condition is productive of the best virtues of free speech. It can come to inhibit speaking freely or leave free speech on controversial issues too much to the thick-skinned or insensitive. The virtues of free speech are that it...  improves the quality of our private and public life and, at times, the quality of public policy.

Yet if the entry barriers to speaking freely are raised too high by the fear of public retribution and vilification, are we not in danger that some of the virtues of freedom of speech will be diminished without commensurate gain?...

Any reading of the rhetoric, and of the blogger and email traffic, on all sides of the lacrosse case, however, makes clear that at many times such self-awareness, not to speak of self-restraint, has given way to a speech intended not to clarify but to embarrass, punish, demean or humiliate...

My second concern is the way public discussion in the blogs and emails often moved from characterizations of what faculty have said or are alleged to have said to attacks on their persons, on their motives and even to hateful personal, threatening or racist rants....

Worthy of special mention – because they are so distasteful and beyond any form of acceptable speech - are the emails that I have seen in recent months which are nothing more, or less, than the anonymous racist – personally vilifying - rants sent primarily but not only to African American faculty members. Faculty members, like all of us, are responsible for what they say and must be prepared for the consequences of speaking freely. However, the rhetoric of these emails...are profoundly disturbing and sometimes debilitating to those who receive them.

But, what does it do to our community when a subset of its members is singled out by their race, or any other quality other than the quality of their thinking, for speaking up?

Let's stop there. With all his hemming and hawing, Lange has completely forgotten that all the bile he objects to was precipitated by Duke University's own despicable role in allowing "a subset of its members [to be] singled out by their race." Because the rhetoric employed by the Group of 88 was packed with loaded euphemisms rather than four-letter words, it's somehow more defensible even if its consequence is life in prison for four innocents rather than hurt feelings for 88 ideologues?

While he dances frantically back and forth from less filling to great taste, breath mint to candy mint, Lange can't stop his skirt from blowing up to reveal the gigantic snobbery that perverts the entire liberal concept of equality. Forced to accept the basic principle of freedom of speech, elitist liberals nevertheless share a profound esthetic revulsion -- amounting to a moral position -- against the use of this principle by unfashionable people espousing unfashionable ideas. And they, of course, are the arbiters of fashion, which they confuse with truth.

It's unspeakable that foul-mouthed rednecks should have the temerity, and the access, to level personal attacks against members of the Duke faculty (fah'-kool-tih). Yes, we have to allow it, but it's so absolutely uncouth and unbearable that it simply must be wrong in some deep incontrovertible way. And yet our only recourse is to respond to our tormentors with what is, in essence, a long-winded and circumlocutory squeal of pain. There, there, Peter. Have a glass of sauterne or someting.

Oddly enough, the superficiality of Lange's discussion illuminates the other examples of liberal repressiveness mentioned above. They're mostly tantrums by offended fashionistas. Not to believe in Global Warming, irrespective of the facts, is just gauche, and the offenders should be sent to stand in the corner until they know how to behave. Ditto with conservative talk radio hosts. It's so rude of them to keep saying such awful things about their betters, because everybody who is anybody knows that they're flat wrong about everything, which is one more sign of how ill-bred they are and why they don't belong in polite company.

When fashion enters the discussion, there's no more room for principle, as poets from antiquity through the Age of Enlightenment have always known. Degustibus non disputandum est, don't you know? Chaque a son gout, n'est-ce pas?

That's why the libs are powerless to detect their own hypocrisy on such matters. Can they do any real damage? Perhaps. But I'm not as worried as Boortz is. If Kucinich (and Pelosi and Reid) manage to kill AM radio, AM radio will be reborn on the internet, and the blogs and bloggers will continue to proliferate and develop even more potent weapons of free self expression. Eventually, even university faculties will lose their power to dictate fashion, because they are already last year's Paris runway flop, and sooner or later, the racks at Sears will reflect that fact.

UPDATE. Dave Hardy at Arms and the Law has just posted an item about Harry Reid (h/t InstaPundit). Apparently he's proposing a bill requiring the registration of all bloggers who comment on politics and have more than 500 readers. Failure to register would be a crime. There's freedom of speech for you. Won't Peter Lange be happy?

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