Democrats and Republicans Have One Thing in Common: Both Suck on Free Speech
It's great that FIRE is expanding, and speech has a national champion again. It's depressing as hell that the Democrats have joined Republicans in abandoning free expression
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, announced a major, $75 million campaign to boost free expression today. The move places the longtime agitator against campus speech codes in a role historically occupied by the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU. Since its founding in 1920, but particularly since its famed 1976 defense of neo-Nazi marchers in Skokie, Illinois, the ACLU has been a face of American liberalism, but shifted in recent years as its once-definitional issue, free speech, is increasingly cast out of the Democratic Party mainstream.
FIRE’s expansion is great news for speech advocates, but likely wouldn’t have been necessary had attitudes toward speech not changed dramatically among liberal academics and among the ACLU’s primary donors, traditional Democrats. Moreover it’s not as simple as free speech moving now from being a blue value to a red one. What’s actually happened is far worse: tossed overboard by the blues, speech has been left without a consistent, principled champion on either side of the political aisle, as both parties have doubled or tripled down on the most idiotic forms of censorship lately, albeit in different ways.
The Democrats’ collapse on speech is especially tragic because Republicans have almost always been terrible on this issue and weirdly still are now, even when so many of their voters are primary targets of “content moderation” schemes, and “Domestic Terrorism” legislation clearly aimed at its base.
For decades, you could set your watch by the Republican embrace of censorship. There was nearly always a Republican pol in the vicinity of any campaign against unpopular speech, be it Al D’Amato and Jesse Helms taking on Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ,” or congressmen Bob Ney and Walter Jones trying in total seriousness to ban the “French” half of what they demanded the House cafeteria call “Freedom Fries,” or even George W. Bush saying “Freedom is a two-way street” and “They shouldn’t have their feelings hurt just because some people don’t want to buy their records” after protesters drove tractors over piles of CDs by the Dixie Chicks.
This script by all rights should have flipped once campuses, the executive ranks of Internet companies, and federal agencies like Joe Biden’s CDC began pushing increasingly draconian censorship concepts to “deplatform” right-wing or conservative ideas. One would think that at least out of rank opportunism, the GOP would get religion on speech principles. No such luck.