Recently, a “Professor Watchlist” surfaced from a conservative group calling itself “Turning Point USA.” The watchlist identifies certain academic professors because “students, parents, and alumni deserve to know the specific incidents and names of professors that advance a radical agenda in lecture halls.”
I do not endorse or condemn TPUSA or its project. My point here is to expose the blatant hypocrisy of the Left in regard to freedom of speech.
New Jersey Star-Ledger guest columnist Linda Stamato, a Rutgers University faculty member, said in an article that the watchlist is “McCarthyism,” a smear term rooted in 1950’s government-backed campaigns to blacklist and silence alleged communists as “subversives.” The watchlist, Stamato says, is a threat to free speech—and she quotes academics eloquently defending freedom of speech, lauding them and “countless others” for “their acts of conscience and their willingness to fight efforts to silence and discredit them.”
But is TPUSA’s watchlist really a threat to free speech? Is TPUSA really trying to silence anyone? Does it even have the power? (Note the package-deal: To silence is one thing. To discredit is what opposing views are, in addition to promoting a different view, supposed to do. The freedom to discredit views one opposes is freedom of speech. To silence is anti-free speech. Stamato seems to equate dissent with government censorship, perhaps to protect the watchlist professors from having to defend their views.) The answer to these questions is; No. Senator Joseph McCarthy held Congressional hearings to investigate Americans suspected of ties to communism, thus putting the power of government—the power of guns—behind his efforts. TPUSA is no such thing. Toward the end of the article, Stamato essentially acknowledges that it is not, stating “We may not have the heavy hand of government threatening our constitutional rights, as they did--not yet anyway. . .”
Actually, we do. But it is not coming from TPUSA. They’re coming from the Left. There is the proposed “Democracy for All” amendment, which would overturn Citizens United and award the government the power to severely restrict freedom of speech in the political arena. There is the “AGs United for Clean Power,” a group of state Democrat Attorneys General using the prosecutorial powers of the government to intimidate and silence dissenters to the environmentalist’s climate catastrophist dogma. There are so-called “hate crimes,” which establishes the principle that you can be jailed for your thoughts as well as your actions (fortunately, we don’t have hate speech laws- -not yet anyway).
Freedom of speech means being free from coercive government interference in the expression and debate of ideas. It does not mean being sheltered from exposure, criticism, and scrutiny of one’s ideas by other private citizens. I see nothing threatening about the watchlist. Turning Point USA is an intellectual advocacy group that is doing nothing essentially different from Stamato in her article attacking the Koch brothers, David and Charles. TPUSA’s watchlist calling out people they disagree with is no more an attack on free speech or “McCarthyism” than Stamato’s article calling out the Koch brothers. In fact, both are free speech.
All ideas—not just those on the Right—should be subject to scrutiny. The shoe is actually on the other foot. The academics’ attempt to discredit Turning Point USA by concocting a threat to free speech out of its watchlist is to attempt to do to TPUSA exactly what it accuses TPUSA of doing—”silence and discredit” opposing opinions by smearing and shaming. Stamato’s very accusation of “McCarthyism” is designed to do just that.
Rutgers President Robert Barchi’s eloquent defense of free speech on campus is spot on—except that free speech applies to all members of a free society, not just academia. Every word defending free speech mentioned in the article—”to challenge the ideas of others,” “to explore new and sometimes controversial ideas and to subject assumptions to scrutiny,” the “right to speak freely,” a “commitment to pursuing facts, to seeking truth, to following evidence wherever it leads, to speaking honestly”—applies equally to TPUSA, not just to “our profession and ourselves as scholars.” Although Barchi does observe that freedom of expression “is fundamental to our University, our society, and our nation,” Stamato doesn’t seem to think so. Why isn’t TPUSA’s watchlist also an “act of conscience?”
It seems that the academics’ “willingness to fight efforts to silence and discredit them” is really an attempt to avoid having their ideas exposed and debated outside of their academic “safe spaces.” What are they afraid of? Perhaps they want to peddle their ideas to unseasoned kids entrusted to them for their education without scrutiny or challenge from opposing opinions from “outsiders.”