• Kirsten Powers, The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech, Regnery, 2015, 289 pages, $27.99.
USA Today columnist and Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers has learned from experience that contemporary liberals are not very liberal. For example, liberals are supposed to believe in diversity, but she finds that “an alarming level of intolerance” emanates from the left side of the political spectrum against those who express views that don’t hew to the “settled” liberal worldview.
Powers makes a strong case that what the illiberal left does is not debate. For the illiberal left, “facts don’t matter, only ideology does, and vilifying your opponents.” They are “at war with the freedom of speech and of legal due process that allows us to find the truth.” What is true does not equal what happens to be politically correct, and the author proves adept at decoding the lexicon.
When nonliberals cite facts in a clear and forceful manner, this is “hate speech.” Rather than answer an argument, illiberals proclaim that someone has created a “hostile environment.” They cite “privilege,” which amounts to “a moving target that seems to apply to whomever the illiberal left is up to demonizing that day.” If someone is less than worshipful of illiberal orthodoxies or heroes, that person “has an agenda” or is “political,” meaning a closet conservative.
Ad hominem character assassinations replace argument, and any challenge amounts to “mansplaining,” “whitesplaining” and “microaggression,” all terms deployed to delegitimize. Any activism against the illiberal left is construed as an attack. The Silencing is not short on examples.
For Powers, who supports gay marriage and Obamacare, “the entire country is, and should be, a free speech zone.” But on campus, she finds free speech “restricted to tiny spaces requiring university preapproval for use.” The University of Hawaii and Penn State University harass students for distributing copies of the U.S. Constitution. Illiberals have turned the university campus into a domestic North Korea. Such comparisons are not a stretch, according to Harvard psychiatrist Steven Pinker.
The author finds it alarming that, in current conditions, “cities have a right to discriminate against Christian-owned businesses if their owners have opinions that don’t jibe with the illiberal left,” as shown by the Chick-Fil-A case. Brendan Eich is forced to resign as CEO of Mozilla because he voted for California’s Proposition 8, banning same-sex marriage. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. wants to punish climate change skeptics as war criminals. As Powers shows, the illiberal left really goes off when anybody questions rape statistics, as confirmed by the “hate speech” charges against George Will.
The Silencing also shows how the illiberal aversion to facts extends high into the corridors of power. For example, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder claimed that intimate partner homicide is leading cause of death for African-American women ages 15 to 45. Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post found this statistic was a complete fabrication. Powers also finds a contempt for truth in the Rolling Stone rape story at the University of Virginia, defended by illiberal feminists long after it was proved bogus.
So were the charges against the Duke University lacrosse players, but a Duke law and feminist studies professor “demonized the lacrosse players as privileged white men who deserved a presumption of guilt.” On this story, readers may want to consult Until Proven Innocent, by Stuart Taylor and KC Johnson. And Powers does not forget the Tawanna Brawley case, which launched the Rev. Al Sharpton’s national profile. A grand jury found “the entire story was made up,” but it loomed large in illiberal feminist demonology.
Likewise, Naomi Wolf said that former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick was “uninflected by the experiences of the female body.” Gloria Steinem called U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas a “female impersonator.” Yet, the illiberal left “sees its bullying and squelching of free speech as a righteous act.” In these quarters, curbing free expression in pursuit of left-wing goals is “both necessary and defensible,” the author says, and “misogyny and authoritarianism all for the greater good.”
This “silencing of opponents” is taking us “to the end of freedom of speech, thought, and debate, to uniformity, all in the name of diversity,” Powers writes. Those are some very high stakes, and the illiberal left has the establishment media and current administration in its corner. And as Powers shows, it is not the most transparent in history. George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton far outstrip Barack Obama in press conferences.
Readers may conclude that the “illiberal left” is an accurate description but still on the charitable side. Even so, The Silencing provides a thorough treatment of what amounts to an inquisition and veritable jihad of junkthought. Too bad the author fails to stick the landing.
The moral of the story, she says, is to “make efforts to invite people who hold different views into our world.” Therefore, “now go and make some unlikely friends.” Actually, that’s what the illiberal left needs to do, apologize to those they have vilified, people such as George Will, Sharyl Attkisson, Ron Fournier, and Powers herself, and befriend them. It is not going to happen, but the illiberal left inquisition will continue.
The last thing anybody should do is back down, which amounts to surrender. Readers need to use their right of free speech against those who would take it away and declare them non-persons. Take a stand, be careful with facts, and as Orwell said, maintain a dedication to the truth. Write articles, go on television, or better yet, write a book. The Silencing is a helpful effort, but in this high-stakes battle there’s always room for more ammunition.
Lloyd Billingsley is author of the forthcoming Bill of Writes: Dispatches from the Political Correctness Battlefield.