“Freedom of thought and expression is the bedrock principle on which all university activity is based.” (From the rather disingenuous mission statement of the University of Oregon)
This is the third in a series of columns about the moral values of the political Left. Part I addressed the left wing idea that corporate profits are a sin. Part II is about the leftist belief that “the ends justify the means.” Today’s column will look at another central tenet of liberal ethics: that conservative ideas and arguments are so inherently evil that they should be silenced by force.
Conservatives and liberals believe in different moral codes, and one ethical area where the differences are especially striking is the ethics of free speech. According to the traditional Judeo-Christian ethics espoused by most conservatives, freedom of speech, for everyone, is a first principle. According to the ethical views of the left wing, on the other hand, only those who have the “right” views have a right to speak. Censoring conservative speech, according to this view, is the morally right thing to do.
It is hard to find a left wing columnist or policy maker who is willing to publicly state that conservatives deserve to be forcibly silenced. Liberals seem to realize that most Americans would disagree with this philosophy, if they ever heard it stated explicitly. Instead, leftists work behind the scenes to censor conservatives on campuses and on the public airwaves while paying lip service to the idea that free speech is a good thing.
The “Fairness Doctrine”: Censorship with a Pretty Name
When our nation was founded, newspapers were overtly partisan, and no one thought there was anything wrong with that. Some newspapers supported Thomas Jefferson and his Republican Party; others supported Alexander Hamilton and his Federalists. It would never have occurred to Jefferson or Hamilton that the press should be, or even could be, unbiased.
Things would soon change. By the middle of the twentieth century, journalists and news editors had learned to hide their political agendas behind pious claims of absolute “objectivity.”
The prevailing culture among mainstream journalists and news editors is overwhelmingly left wing. Outside of college professors and government bureaucrats, few groups are as uniformly liberal as America’s press corps; yet members of the press consistently claim to be unbiased conduits of “the news.”
This fiction gives the press undeserved credibility. In the 1960’s, for example, it allowed a left wing extremist named Walter Cronkite to use his position as anchor of the CBS Evening News, and, unofficially, “the most trusted man in America,” to shape the views of the American people on issues as important as the Viet Nam war.
Before 1987 the FCC’s perversely named “Fairness Doctrine” effectively put the broadcast airwaves off limits to anyone who wanted to openly advocate a political philosophy. Under the Fairness doctrine, if a radio station had put a conservative like Rush Limbaugh on the air, the government would have forced that station to put an equally passionate liberal on the air for the same number of hours per day. The relatively weak drawing power of openly liberal talk shows, combined with the real world problems that such a flip-flop policy would present to station managers who wanted to attract and hold an audience, effectively barred broadcasters from putting openly partisan content on the air.
Under President Reagan, the FCC repealed the Fairness Doctrine in 1987. Limbaugh’s conservative talk show went national the following year, and the enormous audience numbers and advertising revenues Rush was able to attract soon persuaded broadcasting companies to put other conservative talkers on the air.
Leftists, or course, miss the days when conservatives were effectively banned from the mass media. Liberals from the Huffington Post to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have been pushing for the return of the Fairness Doctrine.
It’s rare to find a leftist who says openly that the Doctrine should be brought back to silence conservatives; most liberals who talk about the issue at all prefer to make the specious and disingenuous claim that the Doctrine would somehow increase, rather than decrease, diversity of opinion on the airwaves.
Campus Speech Codes: “Speak No Evil”
Leftists may be struggling to keep conservative voices off the public airwaves, but they’ve been much more successful at controlling political speech on college campuses. The majority of our universities have some sort of speech code aimed at keeping conservative ideas from being spoken or heard.
Outrageous examples abound. Front Range Community College in Colorado, in an almost comical bit of candor, warns would-be speech criminals that “FRCC is a non-public forum; therefore, the college has the right to restrict the time, place, and manner of the free speech activity.”
At Missouri State University a left wing professor assigns her students to write letters to legislators, advocating politically liberal government policies, and punishes students who refuse. In response to this and other flagrant examples of on-campus censorship, Republicans in the Missouri state legislature actually penned a bill requiring state universities to “Eliminate any speech codes that restrict the freedom of speech” and “Establish clear campus policies that ensure that hecklers or threats of violence do not prevent speakers from speaking.”
Temple University illegally dismissed a student named Christian DeJohn, who was a member of the National Guard, after he expressed support for US troops and contradicted his professor’s anti-military diatribes. Temple later claimed that the guardsman’s expulsion was a “computer error,” but the university continued to persecute DeJohn in various ways.
In 2006 Harvard Professor Lawrence Summers was forced to resign, largely because of the hysterical reactions of feminist professors to a speech he’d given a year earlier in which he alluded to the possibility that men and women are inherently different. Since then, angry feminists have continued to block Summers from even speaking, on any subject, on college campuses.
Moral and ethical values are not universal. When people with different moral codes argue about moral issues they might as well be speaking different languages, unless each is able to understand the other’s ethical frame of reference. The dramatically different attitudes that liberals and conservatives have about freedom of speech are just one example of this.
From the left wing point of view, any person who argues effectively in favor of conservative ideas is behaving in an immoral way. Those of us who value free speech need to be prepared to catagorically reject the entire moral framework that underlies liberal thinking.