Obama Administration

Obama's 'Chilling' Effect

The government's goal with chilling is to deter dissent without actually interfering with it.

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White House/Instagram

"Chilling" is the word lawyers use to describe governmental behavior that does not directly interfere with constitutionally protected freedoms, but rather tends to deter folks from exercising them. Classic examples of "chilling" occurred in the 1970s, when FBI agents and U.S. Army soldiers, in business suits with badges displayed or in full uniform, showed up at anti-war rallies and proceeded to photograph and tape record protesters. When an umbrella group of protesters sued the government, the Supreme Court dismissed the case, ruling that the protesters lacked standing—meaning, because they could not show that they were actually harmed, they could not invoke the federal courts for redress.

Yet, they were harmed, and the government knew it. Years after he died, longtime FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover was quoted boasting of the success of this program. The harm existed in the pause or second thoughts that protesters gave to their contemplated behavior because they knew the feds would be in their faces—figuratively and literally. The government's goal, and its limited success, was to deter dissent without actually interfering with it. Even the government recognized that physical interference with and legal prosecutions of pure speech are prohibited by the First Amendment. Eventually, when this was exposed as part of a huge government plot to stifle dissent, known as COINTELPRO, the government stopped doing it.

Until now.

Now, the government fears the verbal slings and arrows of dissenters, even as the means for promulgating one's criticisms of the government in general and of President Obama in particular have been refined and enhanced far beyond those available to the critics of the government in the 1970s.

So, what has the Obama administration done to stifle, or chill, the words of its detractors? For starters, it has subpoenaed the emails and home telephone records of journalists who have either challenged it or exposed its dark secrets. Among those journalists are James Risen of The New York Times and my colleague and friend James Rosen of Fox News. This is more personal than the NSA spying on everyone, because a subpoena is an announcement that a specific person's words or effects have been targeted by the government, and that person continues to remain in the government's crosshairs until it decides to let go.

This necessitates hiring legal counsel and paying legal fees. Yet, the targeting of Risen and Rosen was not because the feds alleged that they broke the law—there were no such allegations. Rather, the feds wanted to see their sources and their means of acquiring information. What journalist could perform his work with the feds watching? The reason we have a First Amendment is to assure that no journalist would need to endure that.

Two weeks ago, a notorious pot stirrer in Norfolk, Neb., built a mock outhouse, put it on a truck and drove the truck with permission in a local Fourth of July parade. In front of the outhouse, he placed a mannequin that he claimed looked like himself, and on the outhouse, he posted a sign that stated: "Obama Presidential Library." 

Some thought this was crude, and some thought it was funny; yet it is fully protected speech. It is protected because satire and opinion about public figures are absolutely protected, as well as is all criticism of the government. Yet, the Department of Justice has sent a team to investigate this event because a local official called it racist. Such an allegation by a public official and such a federal investigation are chilling. The reason we have a First Amendment is to ensure that the government stays out of investigating speech.

And just last week, Attorney General Eric Holder, while in London, opined that much of the criticism of Obama is based on race—meaning that if Obama were fully white, his critics would be silent. This is highly inflammatory, grossly misleading, patently without evidential support and, yet again, chilling. Tagging someone as a racist is the political equivalent of applying paint that won't come off. Were the Democrats who criticized Attorney General Alberto Gonzales or Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice racists? Is it appropriate for government officials to frighten people into silence by giving them pause before they speak, during which they basically ask themselves whether the criticism they are about to hurl is worth the pain the government will soon inflict in retaliation?

The whole purpose of the First Amendment is to permit, encourage and even foment open, wide, robust debate about the policies and personnel of the government. That amendment presumes that individuals— not the government—will decide what language to read and hear. Because of that amendment, the marketplace of ideas—not the government—will determine which criticisms will sink in and sting and which will fall by the wayside and be forgotten.

Surely, government officials can use words to defend themselves; in fact, one would hope they would. Yet, when the people fear exercising their expressive liberties because of how the governmental targets they criticize might use the power of the government to stifle them, we are no longer free.

Expressing ideas, no matter how bold or brazen, is the personal exercise of a natural right that the government in a free society is powerless to touch, directly or indirectly. Yet, when the government succeeds in diminishing public discourse so that it only contains words and ideas of which the government approves, it will have succeeded in establishing tyranny. This tyranny—if it comes—will not come about overnight. It will begin in baby steps and triumph before we know it.

Yet we do know that it already has begun.

NEXT: Brickbat: They're Just Pals

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  1. Tagging someone as a racist is the political equivalent of applying paint that won’t come off.

    Actually, it’s become so overused and abused no one really takes it seriously anymore, other than maybe hard-core proglodytes.

    1. Only a racist would say that.

      1. ^^THIS

        *glares at WTF*

        1. I can’t help it, it arrived in the mail along with my white male privilege. It’s a package deal.

          1. This is amazing. Start working at home with Google. It’s a great work at home opportunity. Just work for few hours. I earn up to $100 a day. I can’t believe how easy it was once I tried it out http://www.Fox81.com

    2. Well they had to keep adding thinner to the paint bucket to have enough to go around, now the paint won’t stick.

    3. Seriously, granted that only hard-core progs would swallow this sort of bilge, nevertheless having a government official repeat such nonsense has the effect of emboldening the progs and encouraging them to keep up the retarded race-baiting.

    4. it’s become so overused and abused no one really takes it seriously anymore

      Word. We really need a new tag. Perhaps “melanophobic”? “Uppity”?

    5. “Department of Justice has sent a team to investigate this event because a local official called it racist”

      From a legal point of view, so what if he’s a racist? Don’t the asshole KKK members and Nazi’s have free speech rights, in spite of their “unpopular” views? What law did he break?

      1. Didn’t you hear it’s now a federal crime to insult the King or any of the King’s agents?

  2. Of course, if my administration was pursuing unpopular policies which I couldn’t defend on their own merits, I’d be tempted to call my opponents racists, too.

    1. How great would it be if Rand Paul is the next President and he starts riffing on this by calling his critics obviously racist because that’s the only reason anyone would criticize him.

      1. Not sure how respecting someone’s freedom to be racist against a white man would come off.

        Now, if he respected someone’s racist opposition to Elizabeth Warren…

        1. Why do you hate Native Americans?

  3. a natural right that the government in a free society is powerless to touch

    Spot the oxymoron here.

  4. Were the Democrats who criticized Attorney General Alberto Gonzales or Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice racists?

    Yes. The Democrats were operating under the belief that there’s only one acceptable type of black or Hispanic person, and Rice and Gonzalez aren’t those types. Therefore, they must be destroyed by any means necessary.

    1. Yeah, that actually is an example of real racism. Especially given the racial epithets Gonzales and Rice were subjected to by the left.

      1. +1 “House Negro”

    2. Duh, look what Democrats say about Clarence Thomas.

    3. You want to know what racism is? Trot on over to HuffPo and read the comments on any article where Clarence Thomas is the subject. I doubt you’ll see invective on the right like that until you’re all the way out in Stormfront territory.

  5. Five most dangerous types of speech, according to Rolling Stone:
    1.Gun speech
    2. Anti-Obama speech
    3. Anti-Holder speech
    4. Anti-abortion speech
    5. Derringer speech

    1. Five most common types of sloopy posts, according to Rolling Stone:

      1. Lists
      2. Artisanal mayonnaise
      3. Humiliating Bernie Sanders
      4. Gorgeous baby photos
      5. Duck battles

      You can be quite proud of that

      1. *SLAP*

        1. Nu-uh, gotta wait ’til Slap-Ass Friday

          1. Good to know.

            *writes down for future reference*

    2. Why is the Gun speech so dangerous?

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4kU0XCVey_U

  6. What will the Judge’s next question be? Who knows? Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care? Who are you? Oh, say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave? Has Eric Holder ever denied that he fucks sheep?

    What difference – at this point – does it make?

    Just askin’ questions…

    1. Now who can argue with that? I think we’re all indebted to Almanial! for clearly stating what needed to be said. I’m particulary glad that these lovely children were here today to hear that speech. Not only was it authentic frontier gibberish, it expressed a courage little seen in this day and age.

      1. It’s Hedley!

        1. ::shrugs shoulders::

          *SLAP*

        2. It’s 1875, you’ll be able to sue her.

          1. Apparently that line was put in because Hedy Lamarr sued Mel Brookes.

        3. My mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives.

          1. God darnit, Mr. Lamarr, you use your tongue prettier than a twenty dollar whore.

  7. There seems to be a chilling effect on alt-text.

    1. And that is the most hideous chill of all…

  8. if Obama were fully white, his critics would be silent.

    This guy, at least.

    1. if Obama were fully white, his critics would be silent.

      Probably because he wouldn’t have carried a large chunk of the people who’d voted for him so he wouldn’t be in office.

      1. Botched the blockquote, sorry.

  9. I just took a look at the Holder quote, and I’m not seeing the fuss. He said ‘some’ of the ‘take back our country’ rhetoric has a ‘vehemence’ that he thinks is motivated by racial animus. He even goes on to say it’s not the ‘main driver’ of such talk.

    I think Holder should have been fired, sued and criminally investigated a long time ago, and that Obama has been an awful President, but I’m also pretty certain that ‘some’ of the ‘vehemence’ of criticism of them is motivated in part by racial animus.

    1. His statement was made to paint all of Obama’s detractors in a negative light.

      It’s perhaps factually true, but it’s also factually true to say “there are some on the left whose dislike of the recent SC decisions is based in their desire to abolish our court system.” Or “there are some on the left who disagree with the GOP-led House because they are communists who wish to overthrow our government.”

      Holder knows exactly what he’s doing, which is attempting,to marginalized everyone that disagrees with sonata or investigates the criminal enterprises of his executive branch by painting with a broad brush.

      If you can’t see that then you’re as blind as Anne Frank.

      1. Anne Frank wasn’t blind.

        Everyone that is criticizing Holder’s comments are not quoting him correctly or are adding this supposed implied meaning. We’d rightly call that if it were being done to someone we liked.

        1. Anne Frank wasn’t blind.

          How do YOU know? I believe Anne Frank was a blind black transgender Jew with a cleft palate.

          1. No, no, once you’re a holocaust victim, especially as a a child, you’ve maxed out your victim cred, no more is needed.

            1. Check your holocaust privilege

              1. Im fairly certain thar Anne Frank is currently blind.

        2. You’re a super-sized imbecile if you can’t see that Holder is trying to paint all of Obama’s detractors with a broad brush in order to marginalized them. Well, either that or you’re a boot locker.

          I also should have known you wouldn’t get the Anne Frank reference. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQof6sxMjp4

          1. In Bo’s defense, we’re all trying to forget the last 15 years of Kevin Smith’s career.

            1. His comic writing is pretty good, see his Dynamite work

          2. So despite what he actually said, what was REALLY going on was….Sheesh.

          3. You’re a super-sized imbecile if you can’t see that Holder is trying to paint all of Obama’s detractors with a broad brush in order to marginalized them. Well, either that or you’re a boot locker.

            Actually I think it’s just a case of Bo pulling a Bo and being his usual intentionally obtuse and pedantic self.

            1. It’s pedantic to look at what he actually said?

        3. “His statement was made to paint all of Obama’s detractors in a negative light.”

          “attempting,to marginalized everyone that disagrees”

          “obviously racist because that’s the only reason anyone would criticize him”

          “Attorney General Eric Holder, while in London, opined that much of the criticism of Obama is based on race?meaning that if Obama were fully white, his critics would be silent”

          What he actually said was much more modest: “There’s a certain racial component to this for some people. I don’t think this is the thing that is a main driver, but for some there’s a racial animus.”

          1. If Donald Rumsfeld had said that some critics who were opposed to the Iraq War were motivated by sympathy to Saddam Hussein, what would you think?

            1. Iirc they did suggest something of the sort ‘I happen to think ridding the world of the murderous tyrant Hussein was a good thing.’

              I think the dynamics there are a bit different.

              1. Ignoring what they actually said, what would you think if they had said what I posed?

                The only way Holder’s quote can be seen as anything but a smear attempt is if he was responding to somebody who was suggesting that opposition to Obama was primarily motivated by racism.

                1. You don’t think racial or xenophobic animus is behind some of the vehemence behind dislike of Obama? I mean, what, 1/3 of conservatives think he wasn’t born here and 1/5 think he’s a secret Muslim.

                  1. Of course it’s behind some of the vehemence. But there’s no reason for Holder and Obama to point it out, any more than there would be reason to point out that some of the Iraq War protesters supported dictators/terrorism/etc.

                    1. I think the number of people with some racial animus against Obama the number of people who opposed war in Iraq out of support for strongmen, and how appropriate pointing either out is a function of how significant it is.

          2. What he said is trivially true so why say it unless there is a larger motive afoot?

          3. True. I mean, it’s also probably true that some portion of his 72% approval rating among Muslims comes from supporters of jihad who think his foreign policy has been very good to their cause, but the deception in saying so is fairly obvious.

        4. Looks like someone hasn’t watched Clerks II, though I’m not surprised. Your generally humorless nature make me suspect that the only movies you ever watch are documentaries about fly fishing or some such shit.

          1. I think law school warps people’s minds, especially the really good ones like Harvard and Yale (if Bo’s “Esq.” handle is literal and he’s actually an attorney) I think it beats the common sense right out of them.

      2. Not sure what “sonata” autocorrected for. Or maybe Apple just threw it in there to marginalized by anti-Holder comment.

        1. I thought perhaps you had Hyundai on your mind.

    2. He said ‘some’ of the ‘take back our country’ rhetoric has a ‘vehemence’ that he thinks is motivated by racial animus. He even goes on to say it’s not the ‘main driver’ of such talk.

      Fair enough. The ‘main driver’ of such talk may very well be animus against sheep fucking.

      1. The main animus is he’s a terrible AG working for a terrible President.

  10. Without reading the article I can assume it’s about how Obama is so cool he is the reason the climate data isn’t matching predictions. The “Arctic Vortex”? Yeah that was just the ripple effect that happens when Obama picks up his pen and phone. Cold as ice. Ice, ice baby.

  11. “And just last week, Attorney General Eric Holder, while in London, opined that much of the criticism of Obama is based on race?meaning that if Obama were fully white, his critics would be silent”

    Can possible be a result of the fact that he’s an incompetent, lying bastard!

    1. When you become the Attorney General of The United States, does that mean I will be able to call you an incompetent, lying bastard? In that position, will you find out who I am and have me arrested?

      Have a nice day, scrotum brain. Are you fully white?

  12. Yes, I remember those 1960s “protestors” real well. Most of them (although not all) were a bunch of hippies who sat around and collected some sort of public welfare, and when they weren’t sleeping, eating, pooping and fornicating, and doing drugs of course, managed to get their lazy unwashed bodies out to some rally protesting the war in Vietnam. A war fought by brave, good men. And when those Soldiers and Marines came home, if they survived, there were those same cowardly hippie assholes waiting to spit on them and hurl insults at them. I guess what the hippies did can be called “robust debate” when they were not in a drug induced stupor.

  13. Surely, government officials can use words to defend themselves

    It’s easier to use power to intimidate and discourage dissent than to marshall arguments.

  14. Risen and Rosen? Apparently the NSA is targeting us alphabetically now.

  15. Considering that Obama perhaps has the hardest to get job in America, it appears that Obama has outraced everyone else.

    Obama can’t be kept down because of his race precisely because he has reached the top. Since Obama is at the top, no one can be a racist against Obama. It’s impossible.

    Claiming racism against Obama is to declare oneself to be an idiot, publicly.

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