Saturday, December 8, 2012

Coulter and Free Speech

Last month the College Republicans at Fordham University rescinded a speaking invitation to Ann Coulter after strong opposition was voiced to her appearance. Fordham President John McShane applauded their cowardice as mature judgment in accord with the university's educational mission. "Hate speech, name-calling, and incivility are completely at odds with the Jesuit ideals that have always guided and animated Fordham," lectured McShane.

McShane forgot to add that paternalistic intervention by a university president in the free speech decisions taken by members of the student body are completely at odds with the democratic ideals said to have always guided the United States. Since President McShane clearly influences the political atmosphere at Fordham, the decision to rescind the speaking invitation extended to Coulter hardly came as a surprise, though the wimpiness of Fordham's College Republicans certainly did. Their contempt for free speech almost rivals that of the Democrats.

If such an episode had happened at an Iranian university, U.S. liberals and conservatives would have united in heaping scorn on Iran for letting religious values trump unfettered political discussion. But when the United States does it, it's somehow OK, or at most, an expression of errant behavior by individuals, not the systemic rot it in fact is. Let's get it straight, folks: There is only one way to practice free speech - by letting the speech that we hate debate the speech that we favor. Any other position is a fraud and a sham.

By the way, how did our fearless opponents of incivility and "hate speech" react when Iranian Prime Minister Ahmadinejad was openly insulted at length by Columbia University president Lee Bollinger during his visit to that campus four or five years ago? It is not difficult to recall that "liberals" and "conservatives" were united in applauding it. So much for our belief in civility.

As for Coulter, she is exactly the kind of enemy Democrats deserve. Her perpetual hysteria and in-your-face hostility are obviously designed to inflame discussion, not illuminate it, just as the Democrats' habitual dismissal of their opponents as irrational or crazy is designed to prevent debate, not engage it. If the Democrats can caricature and dismiss opposition, why can't Coulter insult them to their faces?

A phony democracy requires phony opposition and phony debate. Hence the two official parties continually insult each other, with the Republicans often gaining the upper hand because of the wimpiness of the Democrats. But the Democrats have no leg to stand on in claiming that they represent free speech, as they continually denounce views they deem unacceptable as "racist," "Holocaust denial," "extremism," "crazy," and so on, rather than participate in substantive debate around points of disagreement, which is supposedly the essence of our democracy. By now there is a very long and diverse list of public figures Democrats refuse to debate with - Ralph Nader, Bradley Smith, Noam Chomsky, Ann Coulter (sometimes), David Duke, Louis Farrakhan etc.

Here's the problem: when rational discussion is banned, all that's left is invective, and after that, violence.

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