Advocates of Statism Cannot Tolerate Political Opposition
Guest Post by Robert Tracinski
When the left talks about "hate speech"—which they perpetually attribute to the right, and which they have dredged up again as their latest line of attack against the tea party movement—I've always thought the phrase carries an unintended but revealing double meaning.
Many people are not good at introspection or at identifying the real meaning of their emotions; it's an acquired skill that requires a lot of work, practice, and honesty. So people will often correctly identify which emotions and objects are involved—but not the correct relationships between them.
For example, when a leftist hears someone on the right speak, he is able to correctly identify the emotion, hatred, and the fact that it involves someone's speech. But he gets the relationship backward. The real relationship is: he hates our speech. It is the left that is convulsed with rage whenever anyone speaks up in defense of liberty.
As my friend Jack Wakeland sums it up: "hate speech" isn't a noun; it's a sentence fragment. It stands for "I hate your speech."
That's why the left has responded to the tea party movement—which has engaged in such violent activities as holding up signs, giving speeches, asking questions of congressmen at town hall meetings, sponsoring forums on the health care bill, and organizing congressional debates—by threatening to infiltrate the movement in order to fabricate incidents of racism and advocacy of violence that they will then use to discredit us.
As one tea party organizer responds to that threat, "They can't actually debate our message, and that's their problem."
Confirming that judgment, the left is busy working itself up into a campaign to suppress our speech by depicting us as a violent threat that has to be put down.
For example, AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka recently gave a speech describing the tea party movement as the equivalent of Nazism. I don't know which is worse: the spectacle of a thick-necked union goon denouncing violence, or the left claiming that they stand for "civility" in the public debate while screaming that anyone who opposes them is a Nazi.
This smear campaign against the tea party movement reached a crescendo in the past week with the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. And we've also been reminded recently of the 11th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre. (Who commemorates an 11th anniversary? Someone with an axe to grind.) Of course, April 19 was actually Patriot's Day, the 235th anniversary of the "shot heard 'round the world," the beginning of America's armed rebellion against a tyrannical government. To use that date instead to commemorate the Oklahoma City bombing is an attempt to reverse the meaning of the day, to discredit any resistance against oppressive government.
That is precisely the goal of Bill Clinton's wistful celebration of the anniversary in the pages of the New York Times. Clinton famously used the bombing to smear the Republican Revolution of 1994 by trying to pin the bombing on advocates of liberty. As he puts it, the bombers "took to the ultimate extreme an idea advocated in the months and years before the bombing by an increasingly vocal minority: the belief that the greatest threat to American freedom is our government, and that public servants do not protect our freedoms, but abuse them."
This is a fabrication. Timothy McVeigh was not an advocate of small government. He had nothing to do with the Republican Party and nothing to do with opposition to the welfare state or advocacy of free markets. He didn't read our books or join our organizations or advocate our causes. Using him to discredit the right is worse than guilt by association. It's guilt by imagined association.
Clinton's article is titled "What We Learned in Oklahoma City," and apparently what he learned is that the bombing could be exploited to smear his political opponents. So he's trotting out that same tactic again. The most dangerous form of this smear comes from TIME's Joe Klein, who has been appearing on talk shows insinuating that the views of the tea party movement meet the dictionary definition of "sedition." Sedition is a crime that consists of advocating armed rebellion against the government. But Klein takes a somewhat looser, purposely vague interpretation: he describes sedition as opposition to "the authority of the state." God forbid we should fail to recognize the state's "authority" over every aspect of our lives. People like Klein are working themselves up to an attempt to enforce submission to government and criminalize advocacy of liberty.
And they have to do it. It is necessitated by their statist agenda. One of the big lessons of history is that there is no such thing as "democratic socialism." If the government is going to do as much as the left wants it to, if it is going to become deeply involved in regulating every different aspect of our lives, up to and including how much salt is in our food, then it can't tolerate political opposition. How is the government supposed to regulate the whole economy if it's always getting bogged down in this endless pettifogging obstructionism? Political opposition can't be allowed to undermine "the authority of the state."
Remember that these are the same people who don't think we should be allowed to decide what kind of health insurance to buy, or how to finance our kids' college education, or how we should plan for retirement, or any other important decision in life. So why should they want to hear what we think about politics? That's the real meaning of last month's health care vote. The message was: they know better than the public what's good for us, so they're going to force it down our throats.
That's why they hate our speech. They know that lively political debate—and especially intellectual opposition that questions the very legitimacy of government regulation and control—means the death of their agenda. The terrifying irony is that, in seeking to suppress the speech of their political opponents, the left is trying to create the one condition under which armed rebellion would actually be justified. Perversely, they seem to want to fan these flames, because it will give the left an excuse to do what they really want to do: to suppress political opposition as treasonous. It's a good thing they won't get very far down this road to disaster—because we're not going to let them. In my experience, the attempt to suppress the tea party movement has just made its members more determined and cantankerous. They're not intimidated, and they're not shutting up.
In researching a speech for this year's Tax Day Tea Party in Charlottesville, I rediscovered Thomas Jefferson's A Summary View of the Rights of British America, a 1774 pamphlet in which Jefferson previewed many of the arguments he would later write into the Declaration of Independence—you know, that "seditious" little document on which our nation was founded. In the run-up to the American Revolution, Jefferson urged delegates from the colonies to address their king in language that is"divested of those expressions of servility which would persuade his majesty that we are asking favors, and not rights." Then, as now, cries of "sedition" were intended to limit political opposition to humble entreaties for better treatment from our masters. Jefferson's point was to reject this whole attitude, to remind Americans that we don't have to make any apologies for asserting our rights and defending our liberty.
We didn't then, and we don't now.
* * * * *Robert Tracinski writes daily commentary at TIADaily.com. He is the editor of The Intellectual Activist and TIADaily.com, and a contributor to RealClearPolitics. His article appears here by permission.