There have been several times over the last five years when Rich Lowry has flatly refused to publish something I’ve written for his paper magazine. Despite the fact that his actions made it impossible for me to democratically express myself in a manner of my choosing, I’ve failed to stand up to such tyranny. I allowed my free speech to be chilled like a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon in the back of my mini-fridge. What I should have done is stood up to such censorship. I should have fought back. I should pose naked somewhere.
Oh sure, I know. The Dixie Chicks have already done that. But I can tell you right now, a picture of this sweaty bloated apparatus with words like “traitor” and “don’t inflate past 300 PSI” stenciled strategically all over the place would send a much more powerful message.
Hold on, let me turn down the feed on the sarcasm.
Okay now, what was this about free speech being under attack in America? Maybe I didn’t hear right because I just don’t get it. Some cute country-western chicks who’ve been sheepishly sliding into the alternative-rock category for years — presumably for the intelligence-bequeathing thick-glasses women in the genre get to wear — said something snarky about the president of the United States to a foreign audience on the brink of war: “we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.” Not exactly “J’Accuse” or the Pentagon Papers, but whatever.
The fans got mad. Some radio stations stopped running music by the Dixie Chicks. In other words, it was the “End of Freedom,” the “Handmaid’s Tale” set to the background music of an Applebee’s in Chattanooga, Tennessee. As is always the case with such hysteria, fractions of other stories — Tim Robbins at the Hall of Fame, Martin Sheen’s self-martyrdom, Michael Moore’s asininity, Madonna’s video — and other complaints were mixed together with ample paranoia and liberal pundit opportunism to form a single narrative. Or, in this case to continue a narrative which has been running since the very first days of the war on terrorism. Within days of the Twin Towers coming down, journalists who couldn’t bring themselves to talk about the real threat to America went with what they knew: the tyranny of right-wing conservatives. “Something is burning this week, but it’s not the site of the former World Trade Center,” wrote Cynthia Cotts of the Village Voice in September of 2001. “It’s what’s left of the First Amendment — and every self-respecting journalist should sign up for the rescue mission.”
And so many did. Like airborne special forces, they load up with all of the useful metaphors, allusions, and adjectives — chilling effect, backlash, Orwellian, fascism, censorship — and then toss them around without much precision or care. That’s the great thing about hand grenades, you don’t have to be accurate. The New York Times’s Paul Krugman got his dress so high over his head about all of it, he compared some radio-show stunt in a parking lot with Dixie Chick albums to the book burnings which marked the Nazi rise to power. Ah, subtlety, thy name is Krugman.
Now, I don’t want to belabor this point, but there is something remarkably obvious that needs to be said. In countries where actual free speech is threatened, where fascism or Orwellian thought control are the order of the day, the victims of the backlash don’t typically go on to pose naked on the cover of a magazine, mock their critics, and score exclusive primetime interviews on national TV as well as, literally, thousands of write-ups in magazines and newspapers across the country. It’s just not the way it works in … hmmm I dunno, let’s say, for example’s sake, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Over there people whocriticized the president received different treatment. Over there, if I were to mention at the local bazaar, for instance, that Saddam Hussein dyes his mustache, I might expect a knock on the door later that evening from some men. One of them might grab my tongue with a pair of pliers and then, without anesthetic, slice my tongue off before I was carted off to jail for an unknown and unknowable period of time.
And I guess — just for giggles — I should mention that Saddam’s regime would still be doing this sort of thing today if we lived in the sort of crazy mixed-up world where people take the Dixie Chicks, Tim Robbins, and Martin Sheen seriously.
FREE SPEECH VS. INTIMIDATION
And speaking of Tim Robbins, since he seems to be the newly appointed court intellectual of the crowd which starts every day with a high-colonic, decaffeinated chai tea, and the latest issue of Mother Jones, let’s take this just a bit further. In his speech to the National Press Club, Robbins declared that any instance of intimidation to free speech should be battled against.” He told the assembled journalists that they are the only hope of “Millions [who] are watching and waiting in mute frustration and hope — hoping for someone to defend the spirit and letter of our Constitution, and to defy the intimidation that is visited upon us daily in the name of national security and warped notions of patriotism.”
And lest you think Robbins is alone on this point, noted political philosopher Madonna voiced a similar point after voluntarily pulling her latest video from the airwaves. “It’s ironic that we were fighting for democracy in Iraq,” she explained, “because we ultimately aren’t celebrating democracy here. Anybody who has anything to say against the war or against the president or whatever is punished, and that’s not democracy.”
Indeed, this is the official position of the Hollywood bureaucracy. When Martin Sheen was out there reminding the public that in real life he’s the sort of guy who’d call the president he plays on TV a racist warmonger, some advertisers suggested that maybe they didn’t want their cars or baby formula associated with him. The Screen Actors Guild, the Writer’s Guild and the other protection rackets which serve to regulate and prohibit the speech of writers not in their club, issued blistering denunciations. “Some have recently suggested that well-known individuals who express ‘unacceptable’ views should be punished by losing their right to work,” SAGs whined. “This shocking development suggests that the lessons of history have, for some, fallen on deaf ears.” SAG went on: “With a painfully clear appreciation of history, we deplore the idea that those in the public eye should suffer professionally for having the courage to give voice to their views.”
Okay, let’s recap. “Intimidation” of free speech is a moral horror. Democracy means never being criticized. And, the refusal to sponsor speech you don’t like amounts to having one’s “right to work” repealed. This is childish. Oh, I don’t mean childish as in silly, I mean literally this is childish. This is the way children talk and think, especially in our gitchy-goo self-esteem culture. Not understanding the difference between their desires and rights, they insist they are entitled to do whatever it is they are doing. No matter what they do with their crayons, children expect to be told “That’s so good. Good for you.” Any criticism elicits a tantrum about the unfairness of it all. Maybe it’s because Hollywood types live as King Babies and are never told they’re wrong about anything, or maybe their view of democracy is one in which they are the customers of expensive restaurants and the rest of the world are simply waiters. Waiters are supposed to receive criticism with intelligence and geniality but never, ever, talk back.
When Madonna says that democracy is undermined whenever critics of the president are criticized, it makes me wonder what kind of train wreck her interpretation of the Kabbalah must be. Sheen and his defenders want to be simultaneously saluted for their “courage” to speak out while at the same time believe they there should be no risks for those who do speak out. Well, if there are no risks, where’s the courage? And why should movie stars have a right to risk-free political speech when no other profession has anything close? If I owned a hardware store and put a sign in the window reading, “Down with Bush” — I’d lose business. Or, if I put one in the window saying “Down with Saddam!” I’d also lose business. This is because other people have the right to associate themselves with ideas just as much as movie stars have the right to express their “ideas.” Only by the logic of the bitchy little world we call Hollywood, where even men are divas, would we say it’s outrageous that store owners are having their “right” to sell three-penny nails revoked.
Consider what’s going on with Rick Santorum. By making an argument about constitutional law and homosexuality — one I disagree with, by the way — he’s invited charges of “bigotry” from all sides. He’s been asked to step down from his leadership position. Compared to racists and others who’ve crossed the line of political correctness, Santorum has received a firestorm of grief for having the “courage” to say what he believes. And yet, he’s never claimed that his free speech has been violated or intimidated or his right to work challenged. Of course, Tim Robbins might say, “but he’s a politician.” “So what?” I might say in response. There isn’t a special Bill of Rights for politicians. What goes for him goes for everybody. If Santorum loses his job because of what he said, I don’t see how it would be any more or any less of an outrage than if Martin Sheen, Janeane Garofalo, or the Dixie Chicks lose a few bucks. And if Robbins is so miffed about his “censorship” by professional baseball, I assume he’s outraged about what happened to John Rocker was fined, suspended and harrassed for real. I didn’t necessarily like everything Rocker had to say, but then again I’m not the guy who pounds the table about free speech protections for those with unpopular views.
Frederick Douglas noted that those who want democracy to be always and everywhere polite “want rain without thunder and lightning.” The liberal Hollywood crowd doesn’t even want that. They just want the thunder and lightning for the other guys, not for them.
Speaking of free speech for me but not for thee, you may have heard that NRO was hacked over the weekend by someone who can neither spell well nor tolerate the free expression of views he disagrees with. The homepage went down for part of Sunday and was replaced with a message reading “Hacked by DarkHunter … Freedom for palestian and Iraq … gr33tz to #USG and #teso channels.” Maybe the radio signals in this guy’s fillings garbled the text.
Anyway, I thought about delivering a “we’re gonna get you, sucker!” diatribe and a defiant call-to-arms like Cyrus in The Warriors: You can’t stop NRO! Caaaaannn youuuuu diiiiigggg itttt!?” But you know what? That’s what these date-less wonders want: some attention. I’m sure this guy or someone else with too much time on his hands could hack us again if they were determined to do it. As the old adage goes, you can’t stop someone from making a jackass of himself forever. So, good for you DarkHunter, I’m sure your inflatable wife and dog are very impressed.
I don’t want to be too critical lest I intimidate his right to free speech.