There is nothing new about The New York Times running bizarre progressive agitprop. But thankfully these articles are more often relegated to the opinion pages. Not so today, as a headline purporting to be news, on page 1A above the fold, offered the absurd opinion that conservatives have “weaponized free speech.”
In the place of anything remotely resembling facts or serious empirical evidence, the article by Adam Liptak relies mainly on quotes from “experts” who think government needs to compel bad guys to shut up. William F. Buckley comes to mind while reading the mealy-mouthed assault on our greatest and first freedom, specifically his observation that “Liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views.” Indeed.
Yes, Speech Is A Weapon
The first and most obvious refutation of this laughably illiberal word salad of nonsense is that of course speech is and always has been a weapon. Has anyone at The New York Times ever heard the phrase “The pen is mightier than the sword”? Or is that the kind of old-timey expression concocted by racist, colonialist white guys to subjugate nice people?
Of course speech is a weapon: the most powerful one that exists. The British understood this when Thomas Paine changed the world with a pamphlet, launching the deadly violence of the American Revolution and ultimately the natural rights protections that the Times so casually tosses aside today.
Just like a gun, speech is a weapon that can be used for good or ill, and there is no basic understanding or a priori definition of which is which. For some, hunting is not only a leisure activity, but also a real source of food. For others, hunting is an inhumane and even evil practice. The gun is neutral in this debate, just as speech is neutral in the debate over who should have the freedom of it.
Liptak presents speech not as a neutral force, free to be used by anyone with any position, but rather as a right that inherently privileges those already in power. This suggests in a dangerously wrongheaded way that speech cannot and will not overcome the obstacles those in power impose. But the entire history of human civilization shows us that this idea is stuff and nonsense.
Conservatives Are Bad
Here is Liptak, and his gaggle of experts’, basic objection to conservatives being allowed to talk: “The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a larger share of First Amendment cases concerning conservative speech than earlier courts had, according to the study prepared for the Times. And it has ruled in favor of conservative speech at a higher rate than liberal speech as compared to earlier courts.”
Not surprisingly, what is lacking here is even one single example of the Roberts court limiting liberals’ free speech. In the place of such evidence are a hodgepodge of opinions from former chief justice William Rehnquist and jurist Robert Bork. What, if anything, these two esteemed individuals who last stepped foot in a courtroom long ago have to do with the current Supreme Court is not explained, except to brutishly indicate some kind of hypocrisy that flat-out doesn’t exist.
Maybe, at the risk of engaging in crazy talk here, what’s happening is that conservative speech really is under attack. Maybe those Liptak quotes who have grave and sincere sentiments about the harm speech can cause only think conservatives cause such harm. Oddly, there is no mention of Antifa or other progressive forces that promote violence and destruction.
Perhaps the uptick in cases involving conservative speech is not some conspiracy hatched in the basement of the Federalist Society, but a result of government and social leaders especially marginalizing conservative speech. Maybe the Supreme Court is hearing these cases because they exist. Maybe they aren’t hearing cases involving progressive speech because conservatives aren’t trying to suppress progressives’ speech as much as the reverse.
Will the Real Liberals Please Stand Up?
In fairness, the Times article gives passing mention to liberal thinkers who are comfortable with the inherent dangers of free speech. These are voices we need to amplify. The “I abhor your views, but will die defending your right to express them” crowd, once the solid center of liberal thought, has been pushed to the side. Their dangerous, toxic, misogynist, privileged, and uncaring willingness to allow “bad people” to say things is now being called out.
I recently participated in a panel at the Smithsonian Museum about the arts in our society. Peter Schjeldahl, the longtime head art critic at The New Yorker, was among the panelists. Afterwards, while smoking cigarettes outside the venue, Peter said to me, “So, you’re a conservative?” I nodded. Then he said, “I’m an old, mushy liberal, but I might be a conservative now.” It’s easy to see why.
In the late ’80s, this was a guy in the middle of the fight about censorship of art. He, like me, belongs to a generation of artists and critics for whom free speech was the sun and the stars, the oxygen that gives breath to creative expression. What I believe he meant was not that he wants tax cuts and fewer environmental regulations, but rather that he does not want to live in a society that by law limits what he can see, read, or experience.
I have written in these pages about the dangers of free speech absolutism, about the responsibility that free speech places on citizens to wield it wisely and with measured moderation. But when The New York Times is blaring fake news on its front page in an attempt to sway public opinion in the direction of shutting down speech, it is clear that those who wish to silence me are far more dangerous than those who say things I find abhorrent.
Free speech is all we’ve got. And if The New York Times or liberal Supreme Court justices want to take my pen or anyone else’s, well, they can take it from my cold, dead hand.