Free speech, not a free pass

Great blog on Krugman, Rocket Man. It’s hard to believe that he was once a well-respected economist. I think not being appointed Clinton’s top economist pushed him to the brink, and the defeat of Al Gore pushed him over it. Perhaps I’m a bit unbalanced too, but I couldn’t help but laugh when I read that he was comparing the smashing of Dixie Chicks CD’s to Kristallnacht. The New York Times apparently was less amused.
Krugman isn’t the only one who is confused about free speech issues in connection with the war. This Washington Post editorial argues that statements by Republican leaders criticizing Tom Daschle’s attacks on President Bush’s diplomacy disserve American values of freedom of expression. One statement, by Bill Frist, called Daschle’s comments “irresponsible and counterproductive to the pursuit of freedom.” A second, by Dennis Hastert, went further to argue that Daschle’s remarks “may not give comfort to our adversaries, but they come mighty close.”
I don’t see how anyone could have a problem with Frist’s statement. Hastert’s statement troubles the Post because it thinks he is questioning Daschle’s patriotism. In fact, however, Hastert is merely pointing to a possible consequence of Daschle remarks. It may very well be the case that Saddam Hussein is hoping to survive by holding out for a time and then relying on anti-war sentiment and criticism of President Bush, both foreign and domestic, to lead to some sort of settlement that allows him to retain power. It may also be the case that criticism of Bush from high profile politicians such as Daschle provides Saddam with this hope or at least reinforces it.
I am certainly not saying that Daschle and others should be silenced for this reason. Nor am I suggesting that those who genuinely oppose the war should not speak out. If I were strongly opposed to the war, I would protest against it. And, as a supporter of the war, my preferred means of arguing against Daschle and others is to challenge them on the merits, not to focus on the possible impact of their arguments on the war effort. Nonetheless, it is not improper to point out these possible effects. Liberals always hate it when conservatives do this — they still haven’t gotten over the fact that Republicans attacked Mike Dukakis so successfully by pointing to the real-world effects of his prisoner furlough program. But words and actions have consequences, and there is nothing wrong with pointing out what one honestly believes those consequences to be. Liberals, of course, are quick to speculate about, say, the effect of impassioned criticism of abortions on the conduct of anti-abortion activists or, for that matter, the effect of President Bush’s expression of his religious faith on perceptions of America in the European and Arab street. I haven’t seen any claim from by the Washington Post that these arguments disserve American values
In the end, the Daschles of American have the right to criticize President Bush, his diplomacy, and the way he conducts the war. But the existence of this right does not mean that others should refrain from presenting their views about the effects this criticism may have.