A New America
Jeff Jacoby notes that Bush haters have been surprisingly unharassed, considering that they often decried the President’s “dictatorial” rule. He goes on:
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?
During a related conversation that I had the other night, while labeling and stamping thousands of postcards for Tiverton Citizens for Change, somebody asked if I really had that little trust in the American people. It seems to me that, these days, one is compelled to request clarification: which America?
Look, citizens of the United States do not have the long genetic mutuality that one finds in most other countries. What history we have, as a people, has been broadly taught in a dark, divisive light over the last few decades. In other words, the defining quality of “the American people” — more so than is true anywhere else — derives entirely from culture. Our tendency toward independence, ingenuity, respect for liberty, and general toughness aren’t imbued with our water or inhaled in the air. We are what we believe ourselves to be.
How long do you suppose the United States can remain a 50:50 nation, with the stark difference being nothing less than the essential meaning of our nationality, before one side decides to press an advantage? I’ll go further and suggest that the likelihood of which side will break the truce is not, itself, a 50:50 proposition. One side is defined by the primacy of government in resolving social and cultural problems, and it will be quite natural for that side to define its opposition’s views as beyond the pale.