Kim Breuer, a very loyal reader, called my attention to this piece from the left-wing magazine “The Progressive.” The piece claims that Tom DeLay is trying to “gag” dissent over the coming war with Iraq by stating that Democrats are becoming the party of appeasement. In making this claim, the author shows himself to be confused about issues of freedom of speech and expression. It is no affront to free speech to claim, even mistakenly, that someone is advocating appeasement. If DeLay was saying that the likes of Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich favor appeasing Iraq, then DeLay was wrong. Appeasement is the policy the Democrats want to practice with respect to North Korea (and North Korea may have been what DeLay had in mind when he made the statement attributed to him); gross neglect is what they would like to see in the case of Iraq. But, regardless of the validity of his statement, DeLay has an absolute right to claim that the Democrats are appeasing Saddam Hussein, and doing so in no way infringes on the free speech rights of Dean and Kucinich. In turn, Dean and Kucinich have an absolute right to claim that Bush is going to war in order to seize Iraqi oil or to make Iraq the 51st state, or whatever. Bad, inflammatory arguments are part of what free speech is about. The Progressive’s failure to comprehend this reflects the corruption of modern liberalism, with its speech codes and hate crime laws.
The Progessive also discusses the situation of Toni Smith, the female basketball player at Manhattanville College, who has been turning her back on the American flag during the playing of the “Star Spangled Banner.” The Progressive says, plausibly enough, that Smith has faced “all sorts of abuse.” But the “sort” of abuse she faces is the crucial issue. If it consists of forceful verbal condemnation, then her rights are being respected. Individuals offended by Smith’s conduct (I am one) have the right to express their strong disapproval, and doing so is not an attempt to “gag” Smith. Only if Smith were ordered not to turn her back, or were punished for doing so, would her right to free expression be abridged. In that event, I would side with Smith.
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