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Autumn 2001
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  S oundings

Free Speech for Me but Not for Thee
Roger Kimball
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Provocative conservative ad campaigns enlighten benighted campuses.

Back in the 1960s, then-famous Marxist philosopher and guru of radical students Herbert Marcuse advocated the Orwellian principle of "liberating tolerance"—"intolerance against movements from the Right, and toleration of movements from the Left," as he defined it. Marcuse is hardly a household name today, but the spirit of liberating tolerance lives on at college campuses, as has recently been brilliantly dramatized—for the edification of students and others on campus—by journalist and former radical David Horowitz and by the Independent Women's Forum, a think tank for women uncowed by feminist orthodoxy.

Last spring, Horowitz had the irreverent idea of placing a striking advertisement in student newspapers denouncing the idea—orthodox on campus despite its lunacy—that the U.S. should provide "reparations" for black Americans. Entitled "10 Reasons Why Reparations for Blacks Are a Bad Idea for Blacks and Racist, Too," the ad was carefully reasoned and deliberately provocative. One of the most controversial reasons—number 8—reads in part: "What about the ‘reparations’ to blacks that have already been paid? Since the passage of the Civil Rights Acts and the advent of the Great Society in 1965, trillions of dollars in transfer payments have been made to African-Americans, in the form of welfare benefits and racial preferences (in contracts, job placements and educational admissions)—all under the rationale of redressing historical racial grievances." Commonsensical, but politically incorrect even to consider.

Some of the college newspapers refused to print Horowitz's ad. Those that did faced angry protests and confiscations of the offending issues. The brouhaha made national headlines.

Now Horowitz has struck again. In the wake of September 11, many on campus have mobilized to blame America and call for "Peace Not Revenge," in the legend of one button. In his new ad, Horowitz pleads with students to "think again" and "not to join an ‘antiwar’ effort against America's coming battle with international terrorism." Freedom of speech and the right to dissent are precious ornaments of American democracy, Horowitz notes, but he stresses that "there is a difference between honest dissent and malevolent hate, between criticism of national policy and sabotage of the nation's defenses." "Along with thousands of other New Leftists," says Horowitz of the anti-Americanism of the 1960s, "I was one who crossed the line between dissent and actual treason." He concludes by recognizing how much damage the New Left did.

Some college papers agreed to run the ad; others put the text on their opinion pages. But once again, a chorus of outrage has erupted, especially among liberal professors, who apparently don't want their students exposed to such dangerously unorthodox ideas. After reading the ad in the Brown Daily Herald, English prof William Keach fired off an angry response: "Will you print any piece of far-right, war-mongering, racist poison as long as it's paid for?" So much for the liberal ideal of reasoned debate.

It was the same story with "the 10 most common feminist myths," the ad that the Independent Women's Forum took out to tweak the noses of the college Sisterhood. "Are you tired of male-bashing and victimology?" the ad asked. "Have you had your fill of feminist ‘Ms./Information’? Have you been misled by factually challenged professors?"

The ad debunked with special authority such dogmas as the epidemic of "date rape" (wildly exaggerated), the inequity in pay between men and women (ditto), and the prevalence of domestic violence perpetrated by males (ditto).

Many college papers refused outright to run it. The Columbia Daily Spectator, to take one prominent example, nixed it on the grounds that the paper doesn't accept political ads—though it published one for the Ralph Nader campaign last fall.

These saucy campaigns artfully flush into the open the intolerance behind the "progressive" pieties that suffocate debate on campuses. Some dismiss the ads as "pranks." In fact, they're more like the old Voice of America broadcasts spreading truth behind the Iron Curtain. No wonder they make the academic cadres so mad.

 

 


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