The Brown Shirt Left

September 29, 2014


(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I attended a debate last night between gubernatorial candidates Doug Ducey (R) and Fred Duval (D) on K-12 policy. Unfortunately what would have otherwise been a civil exchange of ideas between two candidates who pass the “would like to have a beer with” test was marred by protesters in the audience who attempted to hijack the event by screaming invective on entirely unrelated matters from the audience.

It seems almost unnecessary to say that the protesters were uniformly on the far left. I’m 47 years old, have seen this happen several times, and have yet to see a right of center group behave in such an anti-democratic fashion. I’m not saying it has never happened, just that I have never once seen it happen.

The person who should be most upset by this is Fred Duval. Duval is obviously a decent guy and I would put the odds that he had anything to do with this squarely at zero. Nevertheless, when a group of people shouting random hostility at his opponent act like a group of brown-shirt fascists, it’s nothing but bad. This was Duval’s best chance to make his points with the public on the subject that he has emphasized more than any other, and that chance was essentially lost. Ducey handled the situation well, receiving a thunderous round of applause in elegantly rebuking the protestors. Game, set match Ducey.

Attempting to shout down opponents is contemptible and against the most basic tenets of democracy. I would say exactly the same thing if a group of conservatives disrupted a debate by attempting to shout down the Mr. Duval.  Notice the muted reaction of the Arizona Republic. If a group of Russell Pearce supporters had shown up in force to scream at Fred Duval I hate to say that I strongly suspect that it would have been a top of the fold front page story rather than a buried note in page three. Seeing this unfold made me wonder if the era of public debates might not be drawing to a close. It is much easier to keep things under control in a studio. The only other alternative is to hire a ton of security, which raises the cost of public events considerably. Either way, we will have fewer civil and public exchanges so long as a vocal minority of Americans lack a basic commitment to civility.

If so, illiberal forces will have stolen something from us. I took my sons aged 14 and almost 13 to the debate last night, and I wonder how many more such events they will have the opportunity to attend. The soft bigotry of low expectations seems very much at work here. We’ve grown to expect some left-wing groups to behave like fascists. We should have much higher expectations.

The misguided people engaging in brown-shirt tactics should remember an old slogan of the left- the whole world is watching. You may have deluded yourself with some complex rationalization justifying attempting to shout down opponents, but don’t expect decent people of either the left or right to believe it.


It’s “Nobody Draw Mohammed Century”!

April 30, 2010

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Today, Mark Steyn posts a letter he recieved from cowardly lioness Molly Norris, along with his absolutely devastating response. Not to be missed if you’ve been following the bru-ha-ha over Everybody Draw Mohammed Day.

Steyn does leave one thing out of his response, though. Asked to explain why he and others are so contemptous toward Norris, he offers a number of unassailable demonstrations that it’s because her behavior is contemptible. But Norris’s betrayal of her own professed principles was not only a missed opportunity, as Steyn stresses. It was a unique kind of missed opportunity.

For one person or one partnership or one organization – like, say, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, or Kurt Westergaard and Jyllands-Posten, or Ezra Levant and his team at the Western Standard – deliberately says something calculated to push back against a violent threat to freedom of speech, that is nothing short of heroic. They take all the risk, and all the rest of us reap the reward of their bravery as parasitic free riders.

But you can’t build a civilization on heroic virtue. Civilization has to be livable for the ordinary person. If a civilization is going to be characterized by freedom, it has to be built in such a way that the ordinary person can enjoy freedom without having to demonstrate heroic virtue.

Kurt Westergaard (Photo by Daily Mail)

Don’t get me wrong – heroic virtue such as has been demonstrated by Parker, Stone, Westergaard, and Levant – and Mark Steyn – will always be necessary. But that’s just another way of saying heroes will always be necessary. And you can’t have a whole civilization populated by nothing but heroes. In other words, heroes are a necessary but not sufficient condition for a free civilization. By all means, let’s affirm that the ordinary person can’t be free unless heroes make his freedom possible – but he also can’t be free if freedom for heroes is the only kind of freedom we have.

So what else, besides heroes, is necessary for the freedom of the ordinary person? A mutual defense pact.

We need a culture in which it is expected that when one person’s freedom is threatened, others will rally to his defense. If it’s everybody for himself, the enemies of freedom can pick us off one by one. Or if nobody but the government is responsible to defend those whose freedom is threatened – well, how well does anything work out if it’s a government monopoly? But if we come to each others’ defense, then defending freedom doesn’t require heroic virtue. It’s hard to be the first person to stand up for freedom – that’s why we need heroes, or nobody can be free. But it’s not so hard to be the tenth, or hundredth, person to stand up for freedom – that’s why those who aren’t heroes can be free, too.

It’s not necessary for everybody in the whole world to come to everybody else’s defense. But it is necessary that those who are morally and culturally proximate to the threatened person come to his defense. By “morally proximate” I mean those who have a special duty toward the threatened, whether by natural relationship (such as being a friend or family member) or for some other reason (such as by professional responsibility – doctors have more responsibility to care for the sick than others, because they are more able to do so and have voluntarily accepted the professional responsibility). By “culturally proximate” I mean those who best understand the social situation of the threatned person because they themselves inhabit a similar social situation.

And that’s what makes Norris’s abdication especially galling. The idea of Everybody Draw Mohammed Day was a fantastic way for all of us who are – as professional producers of social commentary – morally and culturally proximate to those whose freedom is threatened here to exercise a mutual defense pact. Steyn himself has articualted on numerous occasions the imperative for professional producers of news and culture to rally to fight off the threat to free speech from political Islamism. Well, this seemed to be, for a few brief shining moments, a way for some of us to do that.

But not now. Nobody else can make EDMD happen the way Norris could have. Yet it appears that being hip – i.e. not being even remotely associated with anything her elite-lefty social circle finds declasse – was more important to her than striking what could have been one of the most powerful blows for freedom in our generation.

First Amendment Repealed, Part Two

September 23, 2009


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

No sooner do I put up a post on the death of the First Amendment than along comes Jim Geraghty with more free-speech funeral news.

On the floor of the Senate, Sen. Tom Carper appears to have openly and explicitly confirmed that legislators made an illegal quid-pro-quo deal with PhRMA to design health care legislation a certain way in return for a commitment to run ads supporting the bill.

Geraghty is focused on the bribery aspect – PhRMA bought a legislative outcome in exchange for money (spent on ads the legislators wanted). But it’s also a speech issue – congressional leaders used their power over the laws to bend political speech into the shape they wanted it.

The health care people just can’t destroy our freedom fast enough.

The First Amendment Is Hereby Repealed

September 23, 2009


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Items in the news this week:

1) The president signals he’s open to a government takeover of the newspaper industry. No word on whether government-supported papers will be required to change their names to PRAVDA.

If you’ve been told that the bill in question doesn’t set up direct government funding for newspapers, you’ve been misled. It doesn’t set up federal funding for newspapers, but it does everything possible to grease the skids for state and local government funding – and who’s prepared to bet that won’t happen once the opportunity is available?

As I wrote back in April:

Since the law already allows nonprofits to publish and distribute their own newspapers if they want to, the only possible rationale for Sen. Cardin’s proposal is that it allows newspapers to continue charging money to cover their costs while also recieving tax-free subsidies. And who would be doing the subsidizing? Even if government (at the state and local level) doesn’t do it directly, it’ll do it indirectly. Politicians have lots of wealthy friends who would love to have their own pet newspapers.

In fact, Cardin’s proposal is actually worse than a direct government subsidy. At least a direct subsidy would be on the books and subject to disclosure, oversight, and some level of accountability.

Cardin invokes the old Jeffersonian saw that it would be better to have newspapers without government rather than government without newspapers. Yes – but either of those would be better than having government newspapers.

I also wrote that “the proposal is obviously going to go nowhere because it fails the laugh test.” But the laugh test is one exam that’s been pretty radically dumbed down over the past six months; these days anyone can pass it.

2) Meanwhile, the latest development in the health care debate: The U.S. government is now openly using the criminal law to censor core political speech solely because the speech in question advocates a position the government opposes.

When I say “censor” I don’t mean they’re regulating donations and spending levels or imposing restrictions on the when, where and how. I mean they’re threatening to impose criminal sanctions for having said a certain thing, simply because it’s something they don’t want said.

And, of course, once the threat is made there’s no real need to prosecute. The threat itself is sufficient to censor all future speech on the subject.

I’ve written before that health care reform is a knife at the throat of our freedom. I had no idea the enslavement process would move so quickly. Care to place bets on which clause of the Bill of Rights will be the next to go?

UPDATE: Yet another health-care-destroys-free-speech story.