Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Newt Gingrich is thinking of running for president in 2008. That means time spent in New Hampshire, where he recently spoke to 400 people at the Nackey S. Loeb First Amendment award dinner. And at a reception honoring those who fight for the first amendment, of all places, he announces that it’s time to reinterpret the free speech clause of the first amendment to stop terrorism:

Gingrich, speaking at a Manchester awards banquet, said a “different set of rules” may be needed to reduce terrorists’ ability to use the Internet and free speech to recruit and get out their message.

“We need to get ahead of the curve before we actually lose a city, which I think could happen in the next decade,” said Gingrich, a Republican who helped engineer the GOP’s takeover of Congress in 1994.


Well, sure. Because if the bad guys can’t build webpages, they’ll stop doing bad things to us. What “different rules” does he propose? A “no terrorists can use the internet” rule? Sorry, we’ve heard calls like this before. Hell, we’ve seen action like this before during times of war. American history is chock full of examples where, during wartime, this same argument was made. The result, each and every time, was that those who dared to question the government’s policies were stripped of their free speech rights, their right to assemble peaceably, and their right to petition their government.

We saw it as before the 19th century started, practically before the ink was dry on the first amendment, with the passage of the Sedition Act under John Adams. Newspaper editors were thrown in jail for writing anything that might have the effect of bringing the government “into contempt or disrepute.” We saw it during the Civil War, when Lincoln had some 13,000 citizens arrested for opposing his policies. We saw it during both World Wars, with the arrests of war critics like Eugene Debs, Roger Baldwin, Bertrand Russell and more than 2000 others.

During World War I, a filmmaker made a movie called The Spirit of 76. The movie was about the revolutionary war and documented many atrocities by the British troops against Americans during that war. He was arrested and imprisoned and his movie banned. Why? Because the British were our ally in WW I and the judge declared that the movie might cause Americans “to question the good faith of our ally, Great Britain.” He was sentenced to 10 years.

Narrow free speech in times of war? Hell no. If anything, dissent is more important during times of war, not less. And if you give to government the power to censor ideas in the name of fighting a war, they will inevitably use that power to crush dissent against that war.

Comments

  1. #1 MrsCogan
    November 30, 2006

    Conservatives are cowards. They are so terrified of every shadow they are willing to lock themselves in prison if they can feel the teensiest bit safer. I have no problem with that. Unfortunately, being conservatives, they want to lock the rest of us in prison with them.

  2. #2 Miguelito
    November 30, 2006

    Change the first amendment in war time?

    Damn, next thing you know they’ll be trying to gut habeus corpus from the Constitution as well.

  3. #3 Seraph
    November 30, 2006

    Too late, Newt. We already lost a damn city. Funny how focusing the government’s complete attention on Iraq and a Constitution-maiming obsession with !!!!THE TERRORISTS!!! didn’t help.

  4. #4 Steve Reuland
    November 30, 2006

    Conservatives are cowards. They are so terrified of every shadow they are willing to lock themselves in prison if they can feel the teensiest bit safer.

    I’ve been thinking for awhile now that this is a useful and appropriate means of framing the issue. In the name of fear, they want us to give up our nearest and dearest freedoms.

    Calling them cowards for being such demagogues may sound a bit abrasive, but it’s no worse than them accusing us of being on the same side as the terrorists.

  5. #5 Rocky
    November 30, 2006

    Like George Orwell’s 1984, the conservative goal is to keep us continually fearful of war, real or imaginary. Sadly, most people do not seem to mind being lead like sheep, and only wake up when they find themselves in the abattoir.

  6. #6 James Allen
    November 30, 2006

    As I said on my blog, if Newt wants to limit free speech he should start by shutting the hell up!

  7. #7 double-soup tuesday
    November 30, 2006

    Too late, Newt. We already lost a damn city.

    Fallujah? Ramadi? Baghdad? I think we’ve lost more than one. They’re probably right next to my keys.

  8. #8 Seraph
    November 30, 2006

    >>Too late, Newt. We already lost a damn city.

    >Fallujah? Ramadi? Baghdad? I think we’ve lost more than one. They’re probably right next to my keys

    I was thinking of New Orleans. Personally, I never really considered those other ones to be ours to begin with, and I’m sure that Newt was referring to American cities, too. After all, the people in *American* cities actually *matter*.

  9. #9 Keanus
    November 30, 2006

    Fear has been the primary tool of despots, both aspiring and real, since before the dawn of time. Gingrich is just conforming to that norm.

  10. #10 Anuminous
    November 30, 2006

    It is not a fresh meme, Rocky, but it seems painfully true:
    “They hate us for our freedoms, so if we take those freedoms away we will be safer!”
    The real question is how anybody (however dim) could buy such a line.

  11. #11 Anuminous
    November 30, 2006

    Er, Steve…not Rocky. Sorry :)

  12. #12 steve
    November 30, 2006

    >> Calling them cowards for being such demagogues may
    >> sound a bit abrasive, but it’s no worse than them
    >> accusing us of being on the same side as the terrorists.

    Actually, coward is a social judgement, whereas traitor is
    a legal one, and coming with other eliminationist rhetoric,
    can become dangerous. Let us not forget Oklahoma City.

    I’d go a lot farther and accuse them not only of being
    cowards, but genuinely unmanly. While you or I may think
    it a stupid and childish insult, part of the authoritarian
    mindset seem to be a fascination with manliness and
    virility. To be mocked for being girlish is far more
    humiliating in the circles that the Gingrich’s of the world
    travel in, and while it won’t stop their assaults on our
    freedoms, it may cause them to shift to tactics that are
    less efficient at riling up their base of support.

  13. #13 Shawn Smith
    November 30, 2006

    For something even more entertaining, look at another part of the same speech, courteously pointed out by this blog entry at Reason’s Hit & Run:

    Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich says First Amendment rights need to be expanded, and eliminating the McCain-Feingold law’s restrictions on campaign contributions would be a start.

    Gingrich, a Republican, suggested allowing people to give any amount to any candidate as long as the donation was reported online within 24 hours.

    So, I guess free speech for politicians is good, and free speech for everyone else, well, let’s just say, needs to be examined more closely.

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