June 16, 2024


A while back George Will wrote a column titled “Valuing Speech” that is apropos for Independence Day, I think, and another discussion about the relative correctness of liberalism, conservatism, and constructionism.

Will says:

Marriage is the foundation of the natural family and sustains family values. That sentence is inflammatory, perhaps even a hate crime.

At least it is in Oakland, Calif. That city’s government says those words italicized here constitute something akin to hate speech.

When the McCain-Feingold law empowered government to regulate the quantity, content and timing of political campaign speech about government, it was predictable that the right of free speech would increasingly be sacrificed to various social objectives that free speech supposedly impedes. And it was predictable that speech suppression would become an instrument of cultural combat, used to settle ideological scores and advance political agendas by silencing adversaries.

I’m not so sure that this outcome was as easily predictable as Will claims. But Will is smarter than I am so I won’t argue that point, especially since he’s clearly right about the resulting status quo.

Free speech is under attack in the U.S.A., make no mistake. Who is attacking free speech? Those nasty Republicans and their wicked, repressive friends from the Christian Coalition?

Wrong. It’s the 21st century’s version of the peace, love, and (mis)understanding crowd from the left who want to curtail our right – and have, to a large extent done, already done so on our college campuses – to debate, discuss, and even hold opinions that are different than theirs, as conservative students at Tufts University recently found out.

As Eugene Volokh says, “Welcome to the new freedom of speech at the new university.” Quite a new and unpleasant definition indeed.

The irony is, of course, that when today’s liberals restrict discussion about Islam, race, sexual practices, and other issues, their ideological (indeed, their very own youthful selves) forefathers must necessarily be shaking their LSD-addled heads in disbelief at the ultra-liberal progressives’ anti-freedom agenda. Talk about your bad karma…

In the bra and draft card burners’ heyday, universities were the hotbed of radical thinking. New, often stupid but never boring ideas were discussed, campus administrators’ offices were taken over in protest, and new ways of looking at the world were discovered.

One result of their passion for change is that liberalism is now mainstream America. Who isn’t better off because of the gifts of liberalism which include but are not limited to:

  • Higher taxes
  • Welfare
  • Public housing
  • Food stamps (point of reference – the food stamp program’s budget is 40% greater than NASA’s)
  • Abortion on demand
  • Pornography as free speech

Now that they’ve achieved these glorious ends, the so-called progressives seem to think that it is acceptable to cut off debate so that their positions cannot be assailed. Their behavior says that they think they’ve achieved the gold standard of social progress and that no future change can be allowed.

But it’s fool’s gold they’re mining now. Jeff Goldstein says that it is “Illiberalism disguised as enforced tolerance. Welcome to today’s ‘progressive’ movement.”

Indeed, the only way that progressives will ever see their most cherished ideas implemented is over the barrel of a gun, for no republican (note the little “r”, please) government could in good conscience allow their drivel to become policy. Instead progressives are left to manipulate the legal system one lawsuit and one university newspaper at a time to force their unwanted ideas on the rest of us.

In short, progressives are really regressives with a faddish, sexy label applied. Freedom means nothing to the regressives because Americans always use it to ignore them; therefore, too much freedom is a bad thing when placed in the hands of the common man.

They are not alone. The Bush administration also believes that too much freedom is a dangerous thing. Since 9/11 Americans’ privacy rights have been greatly reduced. Electronic surveillance, while not as “in our faces” as it is in Britain, is nevertheless a reality. Email is subject to snooping, as are random packets on the Internet. Cell phone conversations are liable to be recorded and analyzed. Calls made over landlines no longer require the same level of legal protection either.

Bush’s reasons for restricting liberties, while insufficient, are at least sensible. America has enemies who, much like the Soviets in the glory days of the Cold War, will do whatever it takes to injure the U.S.A. Therefore, it is appropriate for the president to mitigate that threat through whatever means.

It is also appropriate for the legislative and judicial branches of government to reign in the executive’s attempts to unduly stretch or redefine the legal limits of his power.

Nowhere is this important and shifting struggle more evident – or more important – than in the debate over habeas corpus, about which Wikipedia says:

In common law, habeas corpus (/?he?bi?s ?k??p?s/) (Latin: [We command that] you have the body) is the name of a legal action or writ by means of which detainees can seek relief from unlawful imprisonment.

a writ of habeas corpus ad subjiciendum is a court order addressed to a prison official (or other custodian) ordering that a prisoner be brought before the court so that the court can determine whether that person is serving a lawful sentence or should be released from custody.

The administration had successfully for several years held alleged “enemy combatants” in Guantanamo Bay and other prison-like facilities with minimal access to legal representation and no transparency whatever regarding the process by which they were being tried.

The administrations fears about radical Islam are well-founded, as can be seen in a cursory review of the news on any given day. I believe that, given knowledge of what the terrorism suspects held in Gitmo have done, people would prefer that most of them continue to be held.

Speaking about habeas corpus, George Washington University professor Jonathon Turley says this:

Keith Olbermann: The right to bear arms, to believe your religion or to not believe any religion at all, to say what you want, these rights get people fired up, no matter what side of the debate they’re on. Is not habeas corpus essential to all of them? You don’t have that, it doesn’t matter what the second amendment says?

Jonathan Turley: That’s right…. all those rights are meaningless [without habeas corpus] because it’s habeas corpus that allows you to get to a court who can hear your complaint. So without habeas corpus it’s just basically words that have no meaning, and this president has shown the dangers of the assertion of absolute power. He has asserted the right to take an American citizen, declare them unilaterally an enemy combatant and deny them all rights.

What Turley and Olbermann don’t say is that most of the detainees deserve to have their rights taken away, as I claimed previously. What’s important about Turley’s statement is the fact that without habeus corpus rights, American citizens are completely at the mercy of the government. This obviously is a giant step backwards in the fight to maintain our freedoms.

The Bush administration has gone to far. Not in holding prisoners without council. Not in torturing some of them. Not even in trying them in secret. No, where the president has gone wrong is in trying to legalize the means he is using to fight the enemy.

Not only is it not going to work – David Hicks’ sentence showed that – but the practice of indefinite detention without representation will not be allowed to stand. The Boston Globe says this about Congress’ intentions:

The decision by US military judges Monday to dismiss the war crimes charges against two detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has reignited a debate over how to try those accused of terrorism, prompting members of Congress to challenge the Bush administration over a legal system they say denies proper rights to detainees and has yet to bring a single case to trial.

Prosecutors say they hope to try about 80 of the 380 detainees still at Guantanamo, but all such cases are now on hold.

This is a rebuke for the president, one he had to see coming. The numbers alone make it clear that the administration cannot prosecute the suspected terrorists through legal means, not if only 20-odd percent of them can even be brought to trial. They cast their net too wide and caught too many little fish.

Worse, Bush’s Military Commission Act removed a fundamental right – Turley says the fundamental right – from the list of those guaranteed to Americans. This is an oxymoron – rights cannot be selectively withheld. If one is then it is no longer a right.

The maintenance of freedom requires constant attention to enemies of it, both foreign and domestic. Truth and liberty go hand in hand. Whether it’s regressives, Islamists, or American presidents who seek to repress them, we owe it to our selves and our children to reject their attempts to take us back to less noble, less free times.


Marc is a software developer, writer, and part-time political know-it-all who currently resides in Texas in the good ol' U.S.A.

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