The Corner

A Bit More on the Speech Police

When I wrote about Adam Weinstein of Gawker and his proposal to literally imprison people for their political views, most of the pushback from the left and from David Frum, America’s Hall Monitor™, consisted of hand-waving, e.g. “You can’t generalize from the position of one crank with a blog, etc.” And while I am sympathetic to the emerging bipartisan consensus that no sentient being could possibly take Adam Weinstein seriously, the fact is that Gawker has a larger readership than The Nation and The New Republic combined. Sure, it’s 99.44 percent pure riff-raff, but the damnable thing about democracy is that you have to take the riff-raff into account.

And while we can laugh away the cow-eyed vacancy of Mr. Weinstein, the desire to criminalize political disagreement extends well beyond his orbit. It was revealed this week that Lois Lerner and her squadron of flying monkeys at the IRS not only targeted conservative groups for harassment and suppression but that the IRS and the woefully misnamed Justice Department were trying to trump up criminal prosecutions against those groups as well, i.e. finding a pretext to literally imprison people as a response to their political activism.

Down in Travis County, Texas, where the stink of cronyism has Republicans in the legislature and Democrats in the bureaucracies sniffing each others’ tails like opportunistic stray dogs, University of Texas regent Wallace Hall is facing the possibility of criminal prosecution for helping to expose the bipartisan scandal of Texas politicians’ seeking preferential treatment for friends and family in university admissions. Travis County prosecutors have a history of abusing their powers: You’ll remember the years-long prosecution of Tom DeLay, which ruined his political career but was in the end laughed out of court. Kay Bailey Hutchison got similar treatment from the same prosecutor. In a sane world, Wallace Hall would get a medal for bringing attention to wrongdoing by elected officials, but the university establishment and the political establishment relish their comfortable symbiosis. 

Others dream of prosecution, too. The political class is infatuated with speech regulations  (which we are expected to call  “campaign-finance laws”) because its members harbor a self-interested desire to set the terms under which political contests  are fought. That is corruption, and a particularly nasty sort of corruption at that: corruption dressed up as a reform crusade. And thanks to the moral illiteracy of the American people and their elected representatives, we are one Supreme Court vote away from Stephen Breyer’s low-rent Orwellian aspiration — the desire that actual political speech by individual citizens should be suppressed in the interest of hypothetical and collective political speech — being the law of the land. “Getting big money out of politics” is just John McCain’s way of saying that you’ll conduct the political argument on his terms or go to jail.

The irony here is that the ones doing the prosecuting are the ones who should be prosecuted. It is against the law to use IRS resources for political vendettas and to maliciously prosecute citizens to further partisan political interests. Those are serious crimes — serious because they pervert the fundamental relationship between citizen and state. But we are enduring what Sam Francis called “anarcho-tyranny,” a situation in which the government either refuses to or is unable to enforce its most fundamental laws — e.g., controlling the borders, ensuring that its revenue agents are not engaged in an unhinged political jihad with an eye toward stacking elections, etc. — while at the same time it seeks to regulate the minutiae of citizens’ lives with all the terrible moral ferocity of David Frum on a Tuesday afternoon espresso bender.

I’ve been treated to several bracing lectures about the rule of law this week in reaction to my views on the miniature insurrection in Nevada. What Cliven Bundy is up to, cinematic though it may be, is small-time. A country of 314 million can endure a little jaywalking on the part of its people from time to time. But when you have a government that refuses to follow its own laws — and uses malicious prosecution for political ends — you don’t really have a government any more. You have gangsters. And when the cops and robbers are the same people, who do you call for help?

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