Stanley Kurtz notes the announcement by William Galston and David Frum of the forthcoming founding of a new organization called “No Labels.” The stated aim of No Labels is to combat the “hyper-polarization” of American political debate by “calling out” politicians, media personalities, and opinion leaders who “recklessly demonize” opponents. “Unfortunately,” Kurtz writes, “their announcement gives us reason to fear that No Labels will only increase the level of political acrimony by attempting to constrain debate, thereby exacerbating the very polarization the group claims it seeks to combat.”
Kurtz describes the mission of Galston and Frum as the moderation of public debate by “establishing lines that no one should cross,” as they put it. Specifically, Kurtz writes, they seek to police the use of labels like “racist” and “socialist,” which they believe are used recklessly in a way that undermines democratic discussion of “legitimate policy differences.”
What exactly do Galston and Frum mean when they say they intend to “call out” those who use labels like “racist” and “socialist” in public debate? Here Kurtz’s column draws on his personal experience: “I think I can answer that question, since a series of attacks engineered by Frum on my then-unpublished book, Radical-in-Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism, appears to have been a dress rehearsal of sorts for the operation of No Labels.”
A cone of silence has fallen over Kurtz’s book on Obama, which is easily one of the books of the year. Kurtz argues that “[a]ll Galston and Frum have done is to make explicit — and reinforce — the mainstream press’s existing determination to ignore and silence critics of Obama’s radicalism.”
Kurtz titles his column “David Frum, speech policeman.” Kurtz is something of a hard case. He seems once again to have crossed the line that Galston and Frum seek to draw.
PAUL adds: I don’t see what’s wrong with using labels like racist and socialist as long as one states the criteria being used to apply the label and honestly explains why these criteria are satisfied.
Declaring the label “socialist” to be off-limits seems particularly odd. Socialism is a respectable, though in my view seriously misguided, set of beliefs. These beliefs are widely held in Europe and, if public opinion polls are to believed, far from uncommon here. According to a Gallup poll taken early this year, 36 percent of Americans have a positive view of socialism.
When I was a socialist, it never bothered me to be called one by those who were willing to debate my views on the merits.
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