The Coming Obama Repression
IT HAS BEEN a favorite trope of the Bush-bashers: The 43d president’s power-lust is so insatiable, his disdain for constitutional checks and balances so complete, that he has fashioned himself into a dictator. Crackpots can always be counted on to say such things, of course, but even non-loonies have played fast and loose with the D-word.Of course, the NRA ad has produced online discussion of whether it really is accurate or not. The liberal-leaning FactCheck.org considers it substantially misleading (while admitting Obama’s anti-gun rhetoric) while The Volokh Conspiracy largely agrees with the ad.
Bush as a ruthless autocrat? It would be easier to take the idea seriously if it weren’t for the omnipresent clamor of voices denouncing the man. Tyrants have a way of squelching public dissent and intimidating their critics. Whatever else may be said about the Bush administration, it has never cowed its opponents into silence. If anything, the past eight years have set new records in vilifying a sitting president: “Bush = Hitler” signs at protest rallies; Crude “Buck Fush” bumper stickers; a 2006 movie depicting Bush’s assassination; The New Republic’s cover story on “The Case for Bush Hatred.” The denunciation has been unending and often unhinged, yet Bush has never tried to censor it.
Will we be able to say the same of his successor?
If opinion polls are right, Barack Obama is cruising to victory. As president, would he show the same forbearance as Bush in allowing his opponents to have their say, unmolested? Or would he attempt to suppress the free speech of those whose views he detested? It is disturbing to contemplate some of the Obama campaign’s recent efforts to stifle criticism.
When the National Rifle Association produced a radio ad last month about Obama’s shifting position on gun control, the campaign’s lawyers sent letters to radio stations in Ohio and Pennsylvania, urging them not to run it - and warning of trouble with the Federal Communications Commission if they did. “This advertisement knowingly misleads your viewing audience,” Obama’s general counsel Bob Bauer wrote. “For the sake of both FCC licensing requirements and the public interest, your station should refuse to continue to air this advertisement.”
Similar lawyer letters went out in August when the American Issues Project produced a TV spot exploring Obama’s strong ties to former Weather Underground terrorist Bill Ayers. Station managers were warned that running the anti-Obama ad would be a violation of their legal obligation to serve the “public interest.” And in case that wasn’t menacing enough, the Obama campaign also urged the Justice Department to launch a criminal investigation.
In Missouri, an Obama “truth squad” of prosecutors and other law-enforcement officials vowed to take action against anyone making “character attacks” on the Democratic candidate - a threat, Missouri Governor Matt Blunt later remarked, that had about it the “stench of police state tactics.”
Perhaps these efforts to smother political speech are simply the overly aggressive tactics of a campaign in its adrenaline-fueled sprint to the finish. But what if they are the first warning signs of how an Obama administration would deal with its adversaries?
But factual accuracy is really a red herring. As Ed Brayton points out:
Here’s why this is dangerous: the absolute last thing we should ever want is the government deciding which campaign ads are deceptive and which are not. That power would inevitably be abused by the party in power, which would of course hold the other party to a different standard than they hold their own.Michael Barone has pointed out the nasty tendency of the Obama campaign, and of liberals generally, to try to shut up speech they don’t like. It was predictable that this sort of thing would happen. The politically correct intolerance of the collage campus has seeped out into the broader society (especially among liberals, who have internalized that intolerance).
We cannot give the government, controlled by political partisans, the power to punish political speech. We especially cannot give them the power to punish a TV station or newspaper for allowing an ad. This would have a serious chilling effect on political speech and would make abuse of that authority inevitable. The Obama campaign should withdraw these threats. If the ad is false, prove it false. But leave the government out of it.
With an Obama presidency, all of American society will likely have to confront this kind of intolerance.