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A Pox on Both Your Houses: The Bipartisan Hatred of Free Speech

Image source: wiredforlego (https://www.flickr.com/photos/wiredforsound23/11186742126)

                The intolerant left may have just found a partner in the censorious right. Of course, this is nothing new; neither side has been an immaculate paragon of free speech rights, despite self-righteous protestations of adherence to the First Amendment.
                Late in the evening on Tuesday, Feb. 7, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) took to the Senate floor in opposition to the confirmation of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) as the incoming attorney general, one of President Trump’s administration appointments. In her vigorous attack on Sessions’ nomination, Sen. Warren invoked old criticisms of Sessions from the late Sen. Edward Kennedy and Coretta Scott King that focused on Sessions’ civil rights record. Though a more meaty argument by Warren may have been made if she were to have destroyed Sessions’ despotic positions on the U.S.’s drug policy and civil asset forfeiture, her opportunity to object to Sessions’ appointment on her own terms should have been respected.
                Instead, Senate Republicans, under the censorious gaze of the bespectacled, vulture-headed Mitch McConnell, invoked an arcane rule that, notwithstanding my lack of constitutional law credentials, seems quite antithetical to the spirit of the First Amendment. The rule, “Rule 19,” lets Senators effectively curb their colleagues’ discourse if it “directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute[s] to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.” What this means is that, if applied, Senators can stop other Senators from trash-talking one another.
                I am a firm believer that the right to free expression is a fundamental bulwark of a free society. Many on the left—specifically, the social justice warrior faction—believe that free speech only refers to freedom from the government suppressing your speech (e.g., the secret police throwing you into a re-education camp for criticizing the great leader’s shoes).
                By this myopic definition, Rule 19 seems downright unconstitutional. But the First Amendment is much more than just the scribbling of an eighteenth-century quill on yellowed parchment. It is, at its core, the affirmation of the marketplace of ideas, whether on the Senate floor or on a college campus. A much more violent violation of it in the latter setting occurred last week when leftists (apparently Marxists and anarchists, though these seem to have been cheered on by some students and, perhaps, faculty members) caused mayhem at a scheduled talk by pro-Trump provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos at U.C. Berkeley. The talk never occurred, as Yiannopolous had to be whisked away to safety amid the rioting, assaulting, property destruction, and looting that occurred. The left’s rationale is that Yiannopoulos is a racist, Nazi. Yiannopolous is not a Nazi, and, as he himself put it, “even if I were, even if all the things they said about me were true, this still wouldn’t be an appropriate response to ideas.” Amen.
                Now, it is the right’s turn to take this message to heart. Those who are shouting and moaning about the left’s illiberal attacks on free speech—and rightly so—must see to it that they do not overlook the leprous rash on their own bodies, especially when it has infected the highest reaches of the legislative branch. For all the insults leveled at sensitive liberal snowflakes and their safe spaces by Trump supporters and others on the right, I say this: if you do not equally voice your opprobrium for the attacks on free speech coming from your own tribe, you are nothing but hypocrisy-laden partisan prostitutes. Hope you’re triggered now.

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