‘Save democracy! Kill free speech!’
George Orwell’s doublespeak is the dialect of the political left. The ease with which elected officials spew words that contradict our lived experiences is remarkable. President Biden celebrates the “Inflation Reduction Act” as inflation ravages American households. Vice President Kamala Harris says on national television that the southern border is “secure” despite the very real humanitarian catastrophe of thousands of migrants flooding our border states every day.
I endured the doublespeak when I testified on Sept. 14 before the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. The hearing was titled “The Role of Public Relations Firms in Preventing Action on Climate Change.” The same title was applied to a report the Democrat majority dropped a few hours prior. Both left little doubt about the Democrat majority’s bias.
A more appropriate hearing name would have been “Save Democracy. Kill Free Speech.” The majority serves as the committee’s own fact-checker to validate the majority’s bias. A simple business strategy such as “corporate image promotion” from a company the majority doesn’t like is considered “disinformation.” An industry defending itself from hostile activists is considered “delegitimizing the opposition.”
Much of the majority’s script focused on a failed 2018 ballot measure in Colorado, and the anti-oil and gas group Colorado Rising that pushed it. Proposition 112 attempted to severely cripple Colorado’s economically vital oil and gas industry with a 2,500-foot well setback. My issue committee Spirit of Colorado, ran a highly effective multimedia campaign against it.
The subcommittee’s outrage centered on oil and gas companies. Facing unrelenting and untruthful attacks, those companies had the audacity to hire professional public relations firms to advance positive messaging about the benefits of energy development in Colorado.
Three witnesses, including Prop 112 spokesperson Anne Lee Foster, fed the majority narrative. They howled about being outspent, which they were. But they implied that it was unfair. I can’t help but think this is the everyone-gets-a-participation-award effect. If you’ve been in politics long enough, you know the agony of defeat even when you’ve spent big and the thrill of victory when you’ve been dramatically outspent. That’s the world of campaigns.
I accepted an invitation from the GOP minority to be the party’s lone witness for three reasons. First, I welcome any opportunity to be the champion of free speech, no matter how hostile the audience. Second, it provided a national platform to promote the John Locke Foundation’s work on energy policy (written testimony), specifically Energy Crossroads and its impact on House Bill 951, North Carolina Energy Solutions. Third, my issue committee Spirit of Colorado ran a highly effective multimedia campaign against Prop 112. I even hired a professional public relations firm, Novitas Communications, that masterfully helped us craft award-winning messages for the Spirit of Colorado TV, radio, print, and digital campaign.
As voters do, they enjoyed the final say. We won with 55% agreeing with our position. Industry didn’t defeat Ms. Foster’s message. Voters did. Prop 112 opponents did our jobs better than Ms. Foster and her group. For our hard work, the Democrat majority on the Natural Resources Committee plans to regulate speech because it’s too dangerous for voters to have open access to it.
The hearing was two hours of Orwellian doublespeak. Facts are disinformation. Problems ignored. Solutions discouraged. The predetermined outcome is that the majority must police speech in the energy policy space. If they don’t do it directly, they’ll have their social media and tech henchmen do it for them.
In the real world, gas prices are still far too high. Biden begs OPEC to increase production. The Economist calls the looming energy crisis across the Atlantic, “Europe’s winter of discontent.” And in California, home state of Subcommittee Chair Katherine Porter, ratepayers suffer some of the highest electric rates for the most unreliable power.
As we stare down the barrel of a global energy crisis, this committee wants an information blackout. Not all information. Just information from the fossil fuel industry that it doesn’t like. I doubt they’ll feel the same way about majority control of speech if the GOP retakes the House following the midterm elections.
The current majority has forgotten these few words members swear to uphold: Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
This is Congress in 2022. In plain language, it is one of the biggest threats to the First Amendment and our constitutional republic.
Amy Cooke is the chief executive officer of the John LockeFoundation and publisher of Carolina Journal.
This opinion piece first appeared in the October / November print edition of Carolina Journal.