Politics & Policy

AOC Does Not Understand the First Amendment

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks at the National Action Network National Convention in New York City, April 5, 2019. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)
Free speech is about the right of even the lowliest citizen to stand up and speak out about what he or she sees as an injustice.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took to Twitter on Tuesday to question our right to complete free speech under the First Amendment.

Here are the tweets:

First of all, let me say that it is absolutely terrible that Ocasio-Cortez has to deal with death threats. I don’t just sympathize; I empathize. I’ve received many of my own. Such as when I made a joke about Star Wars. Or when I criticized President Trump for his response to Charlottesville. Those were doozies. I’ve had to deal with not just “I wish you were dead,” but with people telling me the exact time they’d be at my apartment for the “onslaught,” telling me that neither police nor the FBI could prevent it. I had to deal with hearing that the Nazis had the right idea, because they were trying to improve our culture by exterminating Polish Catholics like me and my ancestors in order to improve our culture.

I understand how this feels.

There are, of course, some differences. One is obvious: She’s leaps and bounds more famous than I am, so she’s had to deal with a lot more. But the second? The second is that, with the exception of the direct, credible threats to my life (for which the current law provides an exception), I’ve defended all of these psychopaths’ rights to say what they said. Yes — even the racists like the man who said that my own ancestors should have been exterminated to cleanse our culture from the likes of people like me.

Why?

Because I stand for the First Amendment.

See, when Ocasio-Cortez asks: “For those who believe in ‘free speech’: whose free speech do you believe in?” she completely misses the point of the First Amendment. She completely misses that you absolutely cannot “believe in . . . free speech” and also want to give that right to only a specific group of people. In that situation, it is bound to be the case that only the elite, only the people in power (whom she has made a career railing against) will have that right. The people who have power over you will also have the power to determine what you do and do not say about it.

Let me be clear: You either stand for free speech or you don’t. You either stand for the First Amendment or you don’t. You either believe that every citizen has the right to speak freely (with, as I mentioned, the exception of direct, credible threats), or you want the government to be able to have the power to decide which opinions are or are not acceptable. Which opinions are or are not imprisonable.

I myself choose freedom.

Does that mean I stand for racism? Does that mean that I agree with those who are, according to Ocasio-Cortez, using their free speech rights to justify and condone running over protesters, as in Charlottesville? Certainly not. In fact, I had a huge problem with what happened in Charlottesville — which is why I made a decision to use my own free-speech rights to speak out against it.

That, after all, is what happens in a free society: We never have to fear that we hold on to some truth that we cannot share with society for fear of government prosecution. We are protected. I am constantly hearing about people who are upset that certain speech makes them feel “unsafe,” but for me, nothing seems less safe than not being able to freely use my own.

The thing is, people in power don’t always use that power for the greater good. The ironic thing is, these days, it’s people on the left who most often say that about our current government — and yet, they want to give that same government control of what speech is and is not allowed? You’d think that they, in their current state of panic, would be able to understand what’s at stake here. You’d think that they, in their complete desperation, would appreciate that they have the freedom to express it and use their words to fight against it — a freedom that could easily be taken away if the government were to get into the business of deciding what is and is not acceptable to say.

See, free speech isn’t just about the freedom to be a total a**hole in someone’s Twitter mentions. That’s a symptom, sure, but it’s about something more than that: It’s about the right of even the lowliest citizen to stand up and speak out about what he or she sees as an injustice . . . even if that injustice is at the hands of our government. It is a not just important, but crucial check on government power — and one that I am not willing to give up at any cost.

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