Thursday, October 11, 2007

A censorious time

Events of the last few weeks have me thinking about just how aggressively censorious various sides of the political system can be.'s "General Betray-Us" ad was sophomoric and the headline somebody there should have known would be viewed more as tasteless than clever completely distracted attention from some of the substance in the ad. Yet Republicans (Huckabee: "a new low watermark [???] in American discourse") jumped on it as if it were an attempted assassination, and got Democrats like Hillary Clinton ("I don't condone attacks on any American who has served our country honorably and with dedication . . .") to jump on the bandwagon. A resolution condemning the ad passed the Senate.

Not to be outdone, the Democrats jumped all over Rush Limbaugh for apparently referring to antiwar members of the military as "phony soldiers." I happen to think he was using the term generically, letting his id rule his mouth and condemning, from his safe broadcaster's seat, all military people who had had second thoughts about the war -- probably cowards! But he had somewhat plausible explanation -- that he was thinking of a particular former Navy guy who had been featured in antiwar ads but whose combat experience and entire military career (he washed out before finishing boot camp) were made up. Network news had done features on the guy and Rush had mentioned him the previous day, so maybe . . .

Given a long history of political nastiness, both these "outrages" were pretty mild stuff, worth criticizing or lampooning perhaps, but hardly stuff to get apoplepectic about. Yet members of Congress were ready to pass resolutions. When they're elected, they're not just independent critics, they are arms of the State, an institution that could engage in censorship, is constantly tempted to do so and sometimes does.

I suspect it's because both sides feel so righteous and put-upon (almost a requirement for being in the political class) that it's not hard to slip into the attitude that opponents should not just be criticized and discredited, it wouldn't be a bad thing at all if they were silenced. True, congresscritters have freedom of speech too. But they might do well to think twice before crawling up to the edge of outright censorship. And maybe the rest of us could afford to lighten up a little.

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