Bob Ehrlich: Liberals and Conservatives Must Fight Against the Left's War on Free Speech


Millions of baby boomers came of age during the latter stages of the tumultuous 1960s. Accordingly, we (yours truly was born in 1957) have some remembrance of “I have a dream,” the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, Kent State and the Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy assassinations. These culture-changing events marked a difficult time in our history, as cities burned and college campuses erupted in violent protests. Large demonstrations were commonplace, as many Americans demanded to be heard on civil rights, women’s rights and the war in Vietnam.

Some on the right recoiled at the form and substance of the civil disobedience. Their resulting uneasiness would provide the emotional fuel for a former vice president (Richard Nixon) in his successful campaign for the presidency in 1968.

Much of the era’s tension was focused on the lawlessness — the riots — the looting. Notably, few contested the right of free Americans to protest; to speak ‘”truth to power” per the contemporary vernacular.

Now fast forward to the new millennium, especially to the 8-year experiment in progressive activism known as the Obama administration. Here, the empowered left achieved a modicum of big government-driven (apparent) policy successes, including a huge Keynesian stimulus and of course, Obamacare. But it charted a far different path on the issue of speech. Startlingly, it used the tools of government to suppress dissent — often in the most illiberal ways.

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– The campus-based war on speech is now the topic of daily analysis. Heretofore unheard of strictures such as speech codes and trigger warnings are now part of the college experience. To boot, conservative speakers are regularly shouted down and often subject to abuse on the very campuses that not so long ago gave birth to the free speech movement. Some schools charge outrageous security fees to conservative speakers in order to discourage their attendance.
Progressives justify this abhorrent behavior as a “just” response to “hate speech”: a mightily subjective catchphrase that regularly gets attached to political positions at odds with the progressives’ no judgment/race privilege paradigm. Today, it’s always a home game for the vocabulary cops.

– The obligation of non-profits to protect the identities of contributors has its roots in the civil rights movement. Few could argue with the (civil rights era) policy consideration behind such a privacy requirement: the NAACP needed to keep the identities of its contributors private — for their safety. Yet today, progressives (and their sponsors in Congress) are actively involved in attempts to un-redact names of contributors to conservative causes. Despite the threat to their safety, primary targets have been groups supporting traditional marriage and, of course, any group connected to the Koch brothers. The latest challenge is a Koch case presently in the Ninth Circuit. Geez … wonder how that one will turn out?

– Recall Lois Lerner’s weaponizing of the IRS – one of the most underappreciated threats to our democracy in our time, including her “missing” emails and decision to take the “Fifth” when forced to testify in front of Congress. You may also recollect President Obama’s lighthearted dismissal of the entire slow walk charade. Often lost in the hand wringing are all those right-leaning non-profits that were not certified in time to participate in time for Election 2012…Suppression, indeed.

– The left’s game plan extends to conservative talk radio through administrative initiatives such as the “locality rule,” “fairness doctrine,” and the Obama administration’s “community advisory boards” — all focused on silencing national conservative radio. These concepts are further emboldened by George Soros et al’s ongoing campaign to pressure sponsors of conservative radio/TV shows to withdraw their advertising dollars.

Progressives have likewise proven resourceful when it comes to the flip side — finding unique ways to force the unwitting to fund their speech.

To wit:

– My congressional tenure spawned the era wherein liberal Democrats regularly agitated for more aggressive underwriting of so-called sub-prime (high risk) mortgage loans. You recall those heady days. Both parties participated in the charade, but the left transformed home ownership into a civil right. No credit history? No problem. Bad credit history? No problem. Little or no income? No problem. Of course, it all came crashing down when large Wall Street investment banks rolled all those toxic loans into securities that were then sold to buyers around the world. A historic market crash ensued. A major recession followed, as did the Obama Justice Department’s lawsuits against those same Wall Street bankers. Said lawsuits, in turn, led to settlements, which led to opportunities for Eric Holder to redirect a portion of said settlements to “community organizing groups.” You know, the same ones (such as “A.C.O.R.N.”) that helped create the easy mortgage era in the first place.

– Another way progressives have sought to compel subsidization of leftist speech is to require dues from non-union members. You may recall Wisconsin as a flash point over this hotly contested issue. Alas, the Supreme Court held the practice unconstitutional (in Janus vs. AFSCME Council 31) this past year. As a result, millions of laborers are no longer compelled to fund political speech they often vehemently oppose. Three cheers for freedom!

Liberals and conservatives should band together in the fight for true free speech. Enough of the easily and often offended progressive left. Remember the 60s!

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Robert Ehrlich is a former governor of Maryland as well as a former U.S. congressman and state legislator. He is the author of “Bet You Didn’t See That One Coming: Obama, Trump, and the End of Washington’s Regular Order,” in addition to “Turn This Car Around,” “America: Hope for Change" and “Turning Point.” Ehrlich is currently a counsel at the firm of King & Spalding in Washington, D.C.