Editor’s Note: If you want to be fair and balanced, sometimes you have to take a swipe at the practices of people on your own end of the political spectrum. This is one of those times.


Who’s Afraid of the First Amendment?

On TV’s “Big Bang Theory,” Dr. Sheldon Cooper is often lampooned as “irony-impaired.” It’s an epidemic these days, on both the Right and the Left.

In February, one of the guests on “Real Time,” Bill Maher’s political talk show, was Breitbart editor and Trump enthusiast Milo Yiannopoulos. Maher, a liberal/libertarian with a keen sense of irony, booked Milo for three reasons: (1) he values free speech, (2) he likes having reviled conservatives appear before his predominately liberal audience, and (3) both he and Milo have had speaking engagements canceled at the University of California, Berkeley, because of protests from radical leftists.

In 1964, Berkeley was ground zero for the Free Speech Movement, which helped spawn the campus unrest of the sixties. In 2017, just the prospect of Milo being permitted to speak freely there ignited riots. And, in the worst possible outcome, violent protesters bullied the university into censorship. Nowadays, it’s Berkeley that’s irony-impaired.

Maher became a pariah at Berkeley after a “Real Time” altercation with actor Ben Affleck. Notoriously anti-religious, Maher contends liberals shouldn’t criticize Christian bigotry, unless they’re willing to hold Islam accountable for its far-more-odious tenets and practices. For pointing out left-wing hypocrisy in this area, he’s been labeled a “dangerous racist,” as if Islam were a race, and pilloried as an “Islamophobe,” as if Muslims deserve to be exempt from criticism.

Meanwhile, liberal journalist Jeremy Scahill, a frequent guest on “Real Time,” backed out of Maher’s show when he realized Milo would be on. What was he afraid of? If Milo is so vile, then why not confront him? Did he think his boycott would teach him a lesson?

In fact, Milo’s appearance on “Real Time” was anticlimactic, because, contrary to expectations, he wasn’t very threatening in person. He seemed like a swishy, more-likable version of The Donald, if Trump suddenly developed a sense of humor, dialed down the lying and name calling by about 75%, and showed a modicum of humility … okay, so maybe not all that much like the president.

Nonetheless, Milo is the sort of right-winger that liberals should be happy to see on the air. Breitbart’s embarrassing brand of toxic conservatism needs to be exposed, not censored, so reasonable people can see it for what it is. (Granted, deplorables will be unfazed, but they’re probably unredeemable anyway.)

In 1977, the ACLU defended the right of Nazis to march in Skokie, Illinois, which has a large Jewish population. They weren’t promoting Hitler; they were defending the idea that the First Amendment guarantees more than just the freedom to express palatable and popular beliefs. Besides, if more people are subjected to what Nazis (or Breitbart conservatives, such as Milo and Steve Bannon) espouse, they might realize just how un-American these wingnuts really are.

 

Ironically, Breitbart has now dumped Milo. During the next “Real Time” show, writer Fran Lebowitz asked rhetorically, “What do you have to do to get fired by Breitbart?” Misogyny, anti-Semitism and racism clearly aren’t enough, but Milo’s seemingly benign attitude toward pedophilia apparently crossed the line. (We’re still waiting to see if there’s anything Trump could do to alienate the deplorables — mocking and defaming women, veterans, the FBI, the disabled, civil rights leaders, the military, former presidents and our closest allies clearly isn’t sufficient.)

Those who value political correctness over truth always have a special distrust of comedy. Because you can’t keep yourself from laughing at something that’s funny, comedy always contains an element of truth. A growing chorus of comics — from the controversial (Chris Rock) to the apolitical (Jerry Seinfeld) — are complaining that political correctness has turned colleges into poor venues for humor.

 

We already have a humorless president, who’s unable to laugh at himself and considers a free press that has the temerity to question his decisions not just his enemy, but the “enemy of the American people.” Spokesman Stephen Miller has ominously stated, “The powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial, and will not be questioned.” Senator John McCain has been a lone voice crying out in a GOP wilderness when he said, “We need a free press,” and “[Suppressing it] is how dictators get started.”

Bill Clinton once pithily contrasted the two parties’ attitudes toward their icons: “Democrats want to fall in love; Republicans just fall in line.” The Right has now fallen in line (and maybe also in love) with a president who barely even pretends to respect the First Amendment. Ironically, too many liberals are using political correctness to emulate conservatism’s authoritarian values.

On March 2, right-wing social scientist Dr. Charles Murray was run off the stage of Vermont’s Middlebury College by leftist students who objected to his scholarly brand of white supremacy. If liberals want to oppose his message, they should debate his theories, not shout them down or use violence to silence what they perceive to be bigotry.

It’s ironic that some of the same sorts of liberals who began the Free Speech Movement have discarded their principles to behave like fascists. Abandoning the spirit of the First Amendment is a conservative trend, and we could very well end up with a liberalism that’s as dark and empty as The Donald’s soul and as cold as Paul Ryan’s heart.


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