Alec Baldwin’s Comeuppance
Yes, he’s a jerk, but conservatives should not rush to condemn people for their speech.


Charles C. W. Cooke

For a TV station such as this to have given Baldwin a job after his long history of such outbursts was stunning in and of itself, and it served primarily to remind all who were paying attention of the sad truth that the Left’s willingness to scrutinize a person’s output is entirely contingent upon that person’s politics. Amusingly, Baldwin, having been ejected from the smart set, seems to have noticed at last that there is no real standard at play. Asking rhetorically why he had been singled out for punishment, he noted that “Martin Bashir’s on the air, and he made his comment on the air!” Yes, Alec, he did. But he joked about Sarah Palin, and your friends don’t like her.

As Tim Carney rather deliciously pointed out to Chris Hayes last week during a discussion of Obamacare’s intrusive contraception mandate, MSNBC is a private business that is free to make whatever staffing decisions it considers necessary. In other words, as the First Amendment is a check only on government, there is no “free speech” issue at stake here. If Baldwin’s behavior outside of work is deemed unacceptable by his employer, he can be fired; if he is a rude and unpleasant person in the studio (as has been alleged), then he can be fired; indeed, as far as I’m concerned, if Baldwin happens to so much as wear a pair of trousers that MSNBC’s head honchos don’t like, they would, contract permitting, have every right to fire him. It’s really not my call.

Nevertheless, we can all react to these things, and how we react matters. However tempting it might be for the Right to celebrate when one of their antagonists is canned, it should take a deep breath and resist. One does not beat the would-be arbiters of speech by joining them, nor does one persuade people that a reflex is wrong by indulging in it when the other side is on the hook. As a rule, the Right has long prided itself on its disinclination to call for scalps, on the eminently reasonable grounds that such a precedent merely opens the door for all sorts of witch-hunting and leaves anyone even remotely controversial at the mercy of rapidly changing fashions. As a rule, it has recently been conservatives who have led the fight against speech codes, against political correctness, and against trying to punish people for what they believe. Why stop now?

Andrew Sullivan is correct to observe that, because Baldwin is simpatico with the progressive agenda, doyens of the professional Left have long given him “a pass when they would never dream of doing so with anyone who was conservative or Republican.” He is also correct to say that this represents “a glaring double standard” and one that “cannot stand any more.” Still, there are two ways of ending a double standard. And, in a country that puts a premium on open discourse, it is infinitely preferable to insist that passes be handed out to everybody equally than to request that they be taken away from progressives — the one political group that, however unfairly, still enjoys their protection.

— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.