The current Republican regime, having fallen captive to the religious right, certainly does all it can to fan the flames of fear in a — so far — successful effort to divide and conquer the electorate. Under Bush, the FCC has edged dangerously close to becoming a sex-police force, moving beyond prohibiting the seven “dirty” words that comedians used to joke were unspeakable for broadcast but were somehow conveyed to audiences anyway. Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink. In place of specific bans and something like reasonable guidelines, Bush’s FCC has imposed by fiat vague and undefined “standards,” leaving many to engage in self-censorship to avoid historically punishing fines. And not content to regulate the airwaves, Bush wants to extend the government’s reach to cable and satellite radio.
Bush’s urge to control broadcasting — be it dramatic or erotic — is part and parcel of his administration’s even more sinister effort to control what our not-very-imaginative-or-courageous-but-nevertheless-still-free press reports. Bush’s war on the media makes Nixon’s attempts to cow the Vietnam- and Watergate-era press seem tame, almost academic.
In universities, Bush has found unwitting allies. The very idea of free speech has been so corrupted by 20 years of obsession with political correctness that universities have forgotten that their role is to foster and provoke free inquiry. That visits by two Iranians should arouse consternation is not a surprise. These men represent a way of thinking that is even more inimical to free thought than Bush’s. But the fact that so many can mistake offering someone a podium with endorsing their views is not an overnight occurrence. Such erosion of the very concept of free speech does not take place in a flash. It’s born of a shallow sense of self-certainty that is a defense — a feeble but very real defense — against the threats of the larger and very real world.
Those who applauded Columbia’s decision to rethink its offer to sponsor a speech by an anti-Western, anti-democratic, would-be wielder of nuclear weapons should ponder the fact that Time magazine published an interview with the Iranian leader this week. Did that magazine betray its commitment to free speech by allowing its readers to see for themselves that Ahmadinjehad is a cunning enemy of freedom?
Romney’s fear of providing police protection for an enemy of freedom can at least be explained away by rather base — but typical — political motives. What of Columbia? Will understanding those who oppose us weaken us? No more so than denying that some are kinkier than others will make sex go away.
The growing sense of fear that envelops us grows stronger every day. We cannot make it dissipate until we look it squarely in the eye.
: The Editorial Page
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