Editor's Choice

Shutting down the voices of our opponents

Whatever happened to the old “I may not agree with your position, but I’ll fight for your right to express it” attitude that was common on the political left?

Those who would say such things often did so in a self-righteous manner, with this underlying attitude: “Your ideas are so stupid, but I’ll hear them out because I am deeply committed to free speech.”

Nevertheless, the underlying sentiment was noble. We should all engage in debate, rather than try to shut down our opponents.

People on both sides of the political spectrum have been known to shout down ideas they don’t like, but these days the left has become particularly aggressive in its attempt to intimidate people into silence.

I’m a Libertarian, so some of my views are considered conservative — property rights, smaller government, gun rights, lower taxes — and others are considered liberal — less-restrictive borders, non-interventionism in foreign affairs, drug legalization. Conservatives often have been angry with what I write, but only liberals have tried to get me fired from a job for taking a legitimate position they didn’t like.

I take issue with some of Rush Limbaugh’s Republican apologetics, but it was appalling when liberals tried to get him booted from his radio show because they didn’t like some of his remarks. Likewise, I’m appalled by liberal attempts to intimidate businesses into cutting their ties with the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group that creates model legislation in state capitols.

I agree with many of ALEC’s policies and disagree with others, but ALEC’s approach is purely in keeping with longstanding American traditions.

The left has its underwear in a knot, because corporations sponsor ALEC events. Yet they have no problem with the many ways that labor unions use their power to craft self-interested policies in state legislatures — and unions benefit from special lobbying and dues-extraction privileges that most corporations only envy.

These days, on the left, throwing around the term “ALEC” and alleging connections to the supposedly nefarious funding of the libertarian-oriented Koch Brothers is what passes for intelligent debate. Threatening boycotts and negative publicity usually comes close behind.

“Our members and our allies have been calling on companies to stop supporting the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and we have promised them that we will publicly hold accountable corporations that continue to fund ALEC,” wrote ColorofChange.org Executive Director Rashad Robinson in a June 25 letter to Time-Warner chairman and CEO Glenn Britt. “To date, we have not publicly highlighted Time Warner Cable’s involvement with ALEC. However, we plan to do so and wanted (to) make you aware of the next steps in our campaign.”

Major corporations are averse to bad publicity and ColorofChange.org, a liberal political group, is threatening to launch a negative publicity campaign against the cable company. In the letter, Robinson boasts that at least 20 corporations have ended their relationship with ALEC in response to activism by groups including Color of Change, which claims to represent the views of blacks. It is apparently a good thing when more companies are cowed into silence.

“Voter suppression has long been a part of ALEC’s agenda, and there is no reason to believe that will change,” Robinson added. “Additionally, while our campaign has focused on ALEC’s support of discriminatory voter ID and ‘stand your ground’ laws, many other aspects of ALEC’s agenda also attack the rights and undermine the safety of African Americans.”

It’s ridiculous to suggest that laws requiring people to show an identification before voting amount to “voter suppression” and discrimination, just as it is absurd to argue that self-defense laws such as “stand your ground” undermine the rights and safety of blacks.

But people will indeed disagree on the merits of any legislative proposal. My beef is not with the fanciful interpretation of well-intentioned legislation, but with the attempt by groups such as Colorofchange to intimidate companies into shutting up.

Robinson then gives Time-Warner the chance to surrender and avoid the release of negative videos: “If Time Warner Cable is reconsidering its relationship with ALEC, please contact ColorOfChange’s Director of Strategy, Gabriel Rey-Goodlatte, as soon as possible.”

Of course, these groups have every right to be this ham-fisted. There’s nothing illegal going on here. But whatever happened to the spirit of open discourse? Why not discuss ALEC’s legislative proposals and debate the merits of them one by one?

Then again, these sorts of groups aren’t concerned about the coarsening public discourse but are all about winning, no matter what that means for society in general.

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