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Wednesday, September 07, 2016

...but not for thee

In just the last couple of years a new feature of discussions with progressive friends has been not just stronger differences of opinion, but a growing intolerance for the mere expression of any difference of opinion.  There is an authoritarian feel to this new attitude.  Another more recent concern voiced in these discussions is the strong desire to get the money out of electoral politics, especially for their opponents.

This was on my mind as I read the recent Kimberley Strassel book,  The Intimidation Game: How the Left Is Silencing Free Speech.  Strassel has written the "Potomac Watch" column in the WSJ for many years and has consistently demonstrated excellent writing and reportage.  Those high standards are on display in this book.  The storytelling is quite compelling and builds and builds.  If you are even slightly interested in this matter, I highly recommend this book.

Here is a review by Peter Berkowitz:
Perhaps most alarming has been the administration’s leadership in the left’s war on free speech and the closely associated rights of assembly and association. The result has been to impair people’s ability to express their political preferences and expose government folly, subterfuge, and criminality.

“All throughout history and all across the planet,” Kimberly Strassel soberly observes, “government officials have used state power to silence critics.”

But changing times give rise to novel tactics. In her chilling book “The Intimidation Game: How the Left Is Silencing Free Speech,” Strassel describes “the new attempt by left-leaning organizations to” not only “shut down conservative speech” but also to “silence anyone who proves a threat to their ideology.”
In practice, campaign finance laws are often wielded to muzzle opposition voices. This is sometimes accomplished by outright criminalization of financial support for dissenting speech. Another technique is to compel disclosure of membership in, or support for, political parties and civic organizations, which enables corrupt government officials and ruthless private citizens to identify and strong-arm opponents. Strassel’s riveting reporting shows how the left has honed such methods to a fine art.
 The most notorious instance of the left’s efforts to use government power to intimidate political opponents during Obama’s presidency was the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting, beginning in 2010, of some 300 small, often Tea Party-affiliated conservative organizations that had applied for tax-exempt status. The IRS’s job was to ensure that applications had been filled out correctly. But at the behest of longtime Democratic Party partisan and then-director of the IRS’ Exempt Organizations Unit Lois Lerner, the agency delayed action on applications for months, which in many cases stretched into years.
 Operating through government offices as varied as the Justice Department, the FEC, the Security and Exchange Commission, and the Milwaukee district attorney’s office, Obama-era Democrats sought to punish those who dared to dissent from their agenda on issues ranging from the size and scope of government to climate change, same-sex marriage, and public sector unions. The aim was not to refute opposing views but to use the force of law and threat of public humiliation and financial ruin to deny individuals their rights to engage in political speech and action.

Tyler O'Neil on the matter:
"It's out-and-out harassment, it's out-and-out intimidation, it's out-and-out abuse of government powers," the Wall Street Journal's Kimberley Strassel told PJ Media after a panel on free speech. "When you're sicking the federal bureaucracy on people and they have the power to give you non-profit status or not, to silence your speech, that's not just bullying — that's robbing you of your constitutional protections. I think it does go beyond bullying."

Bernson explained that "anonymous speech is a right," and turned to the example of the founding fathers. "The Federalist Papers were published anonymously, and would not have worked otherwise." The AFP staffer suggested that if it were publicly known that one of the authors (Alexander Hamilton) was an immigrant, the papers might not have succeeded in defending the new Constitution.

Free speech is a fundamental right, and the Left's assault upon it cannot be dismissed. From "John Doe" to RICO to "safe spaces" to campaign finance, there is no denying it. Republicans and conservatives are not blameless, but these attacks should be infamous and well-known. This is how the Left operates, and how they attempt to shut down the debate. Let us all speak out against it.

Here is a video  of Strassel from a speaking event about the book and the matter.

Here are selections from extended excerpts:
January 21, 2010, is when the Supreme Court ruled on a case known as Citizens United. To listen to President Barack Obama, or Senator Harry Reid, or any number of self-proclaimed “good government” organizations, this decision mattered because it marked a new tidal wave of “dark” money and “shadowy” organizations into elections. It supposedly gave powerful special interests new control over democracy. Citizens United didn’t do any of that. But it did unleash a new era. It set off a new campaign of retribution and threats against conservatives. Citizens United launched the modern intimidation game.
They encouraged, explicitly and implicitly, the IRS to target and freeze conservative groups during election years. They called out conservative donors by name, making them the targets of a vast and threatening federal bureaucracy.
They also cleverly cloaked all this behind a claim of good government. Citizens United, they said, threatened to put powerful and nefarious forces in charge of democracy. And therefore all of their actions and tactics were justified in the name of the people.
As Thomas rang out in closing, “I cannot endorse a view of the First Amendment that subjects citizens of this Nation to death threats, ruined careers, damaged or defaced property, or pre-emptive and threatening warning letters as the price for engaging in ‘core political speech, the primary object of First Amendment protection.’”
Few people outside of Clarence Thomas remembered the ugly history of the NAACP, or McIntyre, or the risk of exposing Americans to retribution. Citizens had instead refocused Americans on the threat of “dark money” (undisclosed money)—and Democrats intended to use that to their favor.
The Democratic Party as a whole is now adopting this proposal to overthrow the First Amendment. It won’t happen anytime soon—passing an amendment to the Constitution is hard. But the fact that Democrats are trying to marks a radical shift in the political culture. The left is done with debate.
Then again, there’s a good case to be made the left isn’t planning on there ever being another moment when the other side is in power. Their intention is to make sure they forever own the debate. That’s the point of shutting down speech. That’s the point of the intimidation game.
Instead, the laws that were designed to keep the political class in check are being used to keep the American people in check.
The entire concept of disclosure has in fact been flipped on its head. The American people know almost nothing about the working of government. Instead, disclosure is trained on the electorate, allowing the government to know everything about the political activities of Americans.
At the very least, it’s time to rethink the levels at which citizens are required to disclose contributions. They need to be dramatically raised. If the left’s argument is that democracy is at risk from “powerful” players, then it can have nothing to fear from the donor who gives $5,000 or $10,000 or even $20,000 to a candidate or party. That is peanuts compared to the more than $70 million that billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer spent in the 2014 elections to (unsuccessfully) retain a Democratic Senate. It’s a simple fact that in today’s big-money political arena, no politician can be “bought” with a mere $10,000. The current disclosure requirement of $200 is primarily designed to ensure that every citizen’s political activity is known to the federal government.
It’s time for the courts to wake up—and to recognize Clarence Thomas’s prescient observations about where today’s disclosure and speech law regime has left the country. It’s time for the courts to recognize that we are once again in an environment in which average citizens are afraid to speak.
Mostly, it’s time for Americans to speak up. The intimidation game only works if its targets let it. When citizens blow the whistle on abuse and stand up to it, they are by definition rejecting intimidation. They inspire others to come to their defense and to speak out themselves.
My personal preference is for a very expansive version of free speech.  Not everyone feels that way.  There are also plenty of people interested in free speech for me, but not for thee.


erp said...

The disgraceful intimidation of those with Trump signs on their cars or yards are a new example of this phenomenon. Now people are a frightened for their persons or property even here far away from the mainstream.

Hey Skipper said...

In just the last couple of years a new feature of discussions with progressive friends has been not just stronger differences of opinion, but a growing intolerance for the mere expression of any difference of opinion.

To be entirely fair, fifty years ago, that shoe would have been firmly on the other foot.

Which brings up an embarrassing admission. Yes, I have done it again. I promised I wouldn't after the first time, and double pinky sweared after the second. Clearly I need an intervention, because I can't stop myself. Yes, I have wandered into the fever swamps that are the very and self congratulatory progressive Crooked Timber discussing free speech.

[Trigger warning: for those of you of little brain and superhuman resistance to boredom, reading this thread will take a meaningful chunk out of your remaining life.]

A concept which, given that they are the smartest people in any room lucky enough to have them, they have astonishingly little familiarity.