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Monday, May 10, 2010

I Smell Sulphur: Obama, The Left, and the Death of Free Speech

In a recent commencement address at Hampton University, Virginia, Obama echoed a familiar refrain from his administration's ideological assault on free speech:

"You're coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don't always rank all that high on the truth meter," Obama said at Hampton University, Virginia.

"With iPods and iPads and Xboxes and PlayStations, -- none of which I know how to work -- information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation," Obama said.

He bemoaned the fact that "some of the craziest claims can quickly claim traction," in the clamor of certain blogs and talk radio outlets.

"All of this is not only putting new pressures on you, it is putting new pressures on our country and on our democracy."

Hmmm...Information as a "distraction" and as a "form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment" which is "putting new pressures on our democracy..." This sounds eerily familiar. Recall this quote from the one who shall be named later:

When people’s preferences are a product of excessively limited options, there is a problem from the standpoint of freedom, and we do freedom a grave disservice by insisting on respect for preferences. When options are plentiful, things are much better. But there is also a problem, from the standpoint of freedom, when people’s past choices lead to the development of preferences that limit their own horizons and their capacity for citizenship.

The smell of sulphur should be wafting over you. Hold your breath and recall this quote:
But if I am correct, one thing is clear: a system of limitless individual choices with respect to communications is not necessarily in the interest of citizenship and self-government, and efforts to reduce the resulting problems ought not to be rejected in freedom’s name.
Can you see a recurring theme? Evidently, there is this new media (aka, right wing talk radio and the blogosphere) creating great quantities of information which, unlike Obama's official mouthpieces at the New York Times-Washington Post-CNN MSM, can be inaccurate, distracting, or merely a form of entertainment, i.e., not a left wing hit piece on western imperialist genocide or man's rape of mother earth, and the "resulting problems" can lead us away from realizing our potential as aspiring "citizens", i.e., brainwashed left-wing automatons. Therefore, the government must filter this information overload to assure balance by requiring "unchosen exposures", i.e., use taxpayer funds to fund and support unpopular left wing propaganda.

In his typically Orwellian fashion, Obama had the gall to invoke Thomas Jefferson:

"What Jefferson recognized... that in the long run, their improbable experiment -- called America -- wouldn't work if its citizens were uninformed, if its citizens were apathetic, if its citizens checked out, and left democracy to those who didn't have the best interests of all the people at heart.

"It could only work if each of us stayed informed and engaged, if we held our government accountable, if we fulfilled the obligations of citizenship."

Note that Obama uses Jefferson and the Founder's admonitions that the public be vigilant and educated in order to thwart despotism to justify, you guessed it, despotism! That is because, In this context, being "informed and engaged" is simply his euphemism for supporting his socialist program. Recall, for example, that vehement opposition to his socialist health care monstrosity was smeared as "racist anti-reform hate mongering", a tactic I analyzed here.

If you haven't guessed by now, Obama derives these ideas from the theories of his buddy and self-proclaimed "choice architect", Professor Cass Sunstein, head of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Obama is operating from the playbook of an intellectual movement whose aim is full government regulation of speech which I analyzed in detail here.

Sunstein's theory was certainly behind the recent FTC regulation that fines bloggers not disclosing their supposed connections to retailers. But alas, the State has much grander plans for us. Sunstein (and, ergo Obama) is an advocate of a "fairness doctrine" for the internet and, of course, talk radio - the true ideological roots of which were laid bare by MSNBC's Ed Schultz in this frightening audio clip in which he calls for a government takeover of the airwaves:

...It's time now for the Democrats to consider the fairness doctrine - when you've got Rush Limbaugh out there saying....we've got to defeat these bastards, he is now openly admitting he is going to work against and campaign against the Democractic party and campaign against Obama, and he is motivating people with the microphone and he is electioneering...keep on talking Rushky...hell, maybe I'll get on 600 stations too or however many you own...it's not a level playing field when it comes to the audio culture of the country- ownership has its privileges - I'll be honest, if I owned 500 stations, the drugster wouldn't be on any of them - maybe we have the reached the point where the Congress needs to equal it out - equal out the audience - just keep in mind - there aren't any poor people with microphones - I think that hell, if we are going to be socialists, let's be socialists all across the board.

In other words, according to Schultz, someone is publicly arguing against left wing policies, and many people voluntarily choose to listen. Conversely, very few people choose to listen to liberal pundits like himself, Chris Matthews, and Rachel Maddow. Therefore, according to him and other proponents of the fairness doctrine, the government must literally force people to listen to him - a profoundly unjust and evil idea predicated on a complete misapprehension of the nature of rights and free speech. Quoting Ayn Rand:

Freedom of speech means freedom from interference, suppression or punitive action by the government—and nothing else. It does not mean the right to demand the financial support or the material means to express your views at the expense of other men who may not wish to support you. Freedom of speech includes the freedom not to agree, not to listen and not to support one’s own antagonists. A “right” does not include the material implementation of that right by other men; it includes only the freedom to earn that implementation by one’s own effort. Private citizens cannot use physical force
or coercion; they cannot censor or suppress anyone’s views or publications. Only the government can do so. And censorship is a concept that pertains only to governmental action.

I will give the left credit for one thing - they understand the power of ideas and the power of propaganda. Step one in every leftist dictator's playbook is: Take Over the Media. In Banana Republics, the regime simply seizes control of the media and executes dissenters. In America, we are being treated to a more urbane, albeit less honest, approach.

Upon taking office, Obama constructed an official department of agitprop which has been a continual sore spot even for the lackeys in the White House press pool. Apparently, according to this report, even these lap dogs are none too happy with Dear Leader's tactics and snarky, irreverent Spin Doctor Gibbs.

Another front in the war on free speech has been the campaign finance laws. We have been told that it is the corporations and Big Money lobbyists that must not be allowed to influence the political process. In order to accomplish this, everyone must shut up, particularly around election time. This will insure that politicians remain able to Platonically assert the will of the collective. Then, and only then, will the political process remain a pure vessel of the public will - which seeks to throttle and tax these evil doers. The Supreme Court surprisingly ruled for free speech which I discussed here, and at least temporarily halted censorship on this front.

On yet another front, we are told that free speech is all well and good, unless it offends anyone, in which case, it must be prohibited. This is the essence of so-called hate speech codes, now enforced in virtually every western country. In my post, Modern Intellectuals at the Gate, I discussed a Canadian case wherein a publisher was being tried for daring to criticize Islam. A very recent example concerns conservative pundit Ann Coulter's "Kafkaesque" journey to Canada where she first received a letter from a University of Ottawa official reminding her to watch out, lest her speech land her in prison. Quoting the letter:

We have a great respect for freedom of expression in Canada, as well as on our campus, and view it as a fundamental freedom, as recognized by our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I would, however, like to inform you, or perhaps remind you, that our domestic laws, both provincial and federal, delineate freedom of expression (or "free speech") in a manner that is somewhat different than the approach taken in the United States.

I therefore encourage you to educate yourself, if need be, as to what is acceptable in Canada and to do so before your planned visit here. You will realize that Canadian law puts reasonable limits on the freedom of expression.For example, promoting hatred against any identifiable group would not only be considered inappropriate, but could in fact lead to criminal charges. . . . [emphasis mine]

If this wasn't chilling enough, the event was ultimately cancelled after police defaulted on protecting the event from armed thugs. Apparently, police gave her options but the decision to cancel was entirely up to her. Apparently, the choice they gave her was: "you can talk, but you might get killed":

Cops advised that proceeding with Coulter event in face of protesters would be dangerous to her and crowd," and quoted a Sgt. Dan Beauchamp as saying that shutting down the event was "a public safety issue," as well as an unnamed "police officer" who allegedly said that the OPS "cannot guarantee her safety."

Were Canadians outraged at this injustice? Evidently, Canadian "feminist" Susan Cole was not:

We don’t have that same political culture here in (Canada). . . . We don’t have a 1st Amendment, we don’t have a religion of free speech. . . . Students sign off on all kinds of agreements as to how they’ll behave on campus, in order to respect diversity, equity, all of the values that Canadians really care about. Those are the things that drive our political culture. Not freedoms, not rugged individualism, not free speech. It’s different, and for us, it works.

The blog author replies fittingly:

Translated from the original Canadian, “diversity” means “state-mandated mob-enforced conformity.” As for whether “it works” for Canadians, ask Guy Earle. On Monday Mr. Earle, a stand-up comedian of conventionally Trudeaupian views, goes on trial at the British Columbia “Human Rights” Tribunal for putting down two hecklers at his nightclub act. They were, alas for him, of the lesbian persuasion, and so he is now charged with “homophobia.” What a wretched embarrassment to a once free society.

These laws are more than an embarrassment to a free society - they are the coup de grace. In my previous post, Trial Balloon of the Century, I stated:

...if freedom of speech were to be abrogated in the United States, it would be the final straw for advocates of freedom and should lead to an all out revolution. This is because without the freedom to think, all other rights are meaningless.

Regarding this incident, Coulter writes:

If a university official’s letter accusing a speaker of having a proclivity to commit speech crimes before she’s given the speech — which then leads to Facebook postings demanding that Ann Coulter be hurt, a massive riot and a police-ordered cancellation of the speech — is not hate speech, then there is no such thing as hate speech.

When you hear Sunstein, the POTUS, or anyone on the left call for fairness, level playing fields, obligations of citizenship, or "pressures on our democracy" emanating from the free exchange of ideas, keep in mind the image of an armed mob holding hands with university professors, lawyers, and the police ready to put you in jail or a hospital if you say the wrong thing as defined by them.

Keep that image in mind when you hear them say that "efforts to reduce the resulting problems ought not to be rejected in freedom’s name."


Galileo Blogs said...

It is all so chilling. When POTUS issues his veiled calls for restricting free speech, he is setting the agenda for his minions. They will take his cue and amplify the call for censorship.

It is all so reminiscent of Hugo Chavez and so many others. I think of that photo awhile back where Obama is enthusiastically grinning ear to ear as he greets Chavez. I also think of when he returned the bust of Winston Churchill back to the Brits. And I think that this is the man who signed an agreement to reduce our nuclear weapons with the former KGB colonel who runs that country (de facto).

But his broaching of censorship is the scariest threat.

Galileo Blogs said...

Sorry, to be clear: the former KGB colonel (Putin), who runs *Russia*. My wording was unclear.

The Rat Cap said...


Here's a rather spooky little interview with Farakhan where he basically asserts that he and Pastor Wright and others who Obama publicly "dissed" in order to get elected weren't upset since they knew he had to do it to get elected


He's hiding in plain sight

C. August said...

Thanks for writing this. As soon as I read Obama's quote, I thought it was perfectly Sunstein-esque. Hell, Sunstein wrote the literal book(s) on it throughout the last ten years of his prodigious output.

In particular, a 2008 work done under the auspices of the American Enterprise Institute encapsulates all of this very well: "Why Groups Go to Extremes." (download a free PDF here)

In this book, Sunstein sums up all the different threads of topics he's been rehashing for a decade, and two of his main points have come out of Obama's mouth in just the past month or so--you name them both. He demonizes the Tea Parties as racist fearmongering--sorry, hatemongering--because they are "extremist." The theory underlying this view is discussed at length in pages 10-15 of Sunstein's short book.

As a "threat to democracy" such polarizing views supposedly isolate the "extremists" and they build up in an echo chamber. They way to "fix" it is to attack "too much speech" as Obama just did, and is described in pp. 15-25 of Sunstein.

Christ, this is like the Alinsky playbook, but specifically for attacking free speech in service of tyranny.

The Rat Cap said...


Wow! Thanks for posting this.

All concerned with freedom of speech and therefore, your life, should take note of what's happening. The best way to fight this is to expose them philosophically.

Obama and his ilk will couch Sunstein's theories in an inocous sounding wrapper to gain traction and seem reasonable. Then, these ideas will manifest in concrete policy proposals aimed at regulating speech.

Fighting efforts to regulate speech should be a major avenue of activism.

The Rat Cap said...


That PDF link seems broken. Let us know.


The Rat Cap said...


Above is Cass Sunstein's book which C. August referred

Anonymous said...

...to add to C. August's post, Sunstein specifically references "conspiracy theorizing" as something that should be made illegal, and many right-wingers would probably agree with him. He wants to make freedom of thought illegal as well as speech.

The Rat Cap said...


Cass would never say that. He is concerned only about the heterogeneity of argument pools so as to minimize the tendency toward polarization or the formation of outgroups within enclave deliberations. He is simply asserting that more speech in a homogeneous enclave deliberation will not necessarily lead to a desirable outcome for members outside the enclave as this speech tends to be reinforcing. As he says:

"We can go further. Some points of view are unreasonable and
even potentially dangerous, and it is also possible to worry about
group discussion among people who share such points of view. If the
underlying views are unreasonable, it makes sense to fear that these
discussions may fuel increasing hatred and extremism (used here in
an evaluative sense). This does not mean that the discussions can or should be regulated in a system dedicated to freedom of speech. But
it does raise questions about the idea that “more speech” is necessarily an adequate remedy."

You see now?

C. August said...

Exactly, Doug. It's all so clear, now! I no longer know what he's for or against, but I certainly feel like I just read something very deep and important, and as long as I don't admit that I don't know what it means, I'll have you believing I'm important, too.

-Peter Keating

Mike said...

What irks me more than anything about this development is all the liberal intellectuals parroting this particular party angle like it's nothing controversial at all, and they have agreed and understood it all along. Because I seem to remember years ago accusing such people of pushing just this sort of agenda, and having them object in outrage that their patriotism was being brought into question.