Over at New York, Kurt Andersen hoists his keyboard and smashes it over the heads of the ninnies who predict civilizational doom when the Ahmadinejads of the world say mean things.
Almost any argument about race, gender, Israel, or the war is now apt to be infected by a spirit of self-righteous grievance and demonization. Passionate disagreement isn't sufficient; bad faith must be imputed to one's opponents: skepticism of affirmative action equals racism, antiwar sentiment equals anti-Americanism (or terrorist sympathy), criticism of Israel is by definition anti-Semitic, and so on. More and more people think they're entitled to the right not just to ignore or disapprove, but to veto and banish. And the craven fear of triggering tantrums leads the responsible authorities—university administrators, politicians, corporate executives—into humiliating, flip-floppy contortions of appeasement.
Maybe, I tell myself hopefully, it's all a spasmodic reaction to the unfettered discourse that the Web and cable TV and talk radio have unleashed—that because freedom of expression is rather suddenly greater than ever in so many ways, people are trying desperately to reestablish limits on what can and can't be asserted in their vicinity. And no doubt this sort of panicky, anti-democratic exceptionalism—freedom of speech for us, but not necessarily for you—is fed by the chronic sense of emergency that has prevailed since September 2001, when the White House press secretary warned that "Americans … need to watch what they say."
Maybe the fever will pass. Or maybe a lot of us are permanently losing our taste for liberty, devoted to "freedom" in the abstract but unprepared to endure all its messy particulars.
Most of Anderson's following words are given over to university speech codes and the unctuous umbridge of Lee Bollinger. That's old news. I'm ever more fascinated by the anti-speech anger on the right, the stuff Jesse Walker has written about. Switch on any of the Fox News gut rumble shows—O'Reilly, Hannity, John Gibson—and there's at least one segment about the "controversial comments" of some pinko or another and how loudly they should be condemned. At 50 decibels? At 100 decibels? Here was the lead question on Friday's Hannity and Colmes, about the Rush Limbaugh "phony soldiers" kerfuffle.
Hillary Clinton accuses a four-star general, slanders him as a liar. Harry Reid, Dick Durbin, John Kerry, John Murtha, are these Democrats in power emboldening America's enemies with their comments and slander against the military?
Surely not even a beefcake crybaby like Sean Hannity thinks this stuff matters, or that it impedes our progress in the glorious conflict.
Walker on Ahmadinejad here.