Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Newt Gingrich--what a swell guy! (Part 7--the new guardian of free speech)

Overview

And finally I come to the matter that got me started on this whole series.

On November 27, 2006, Gingrich gave a speech in Manchester, New Hampshire at the anuual Nackey S. Loeb First Amendment award dinner, which honors people and organizations that stand up for freedom of speech. And in this setting, Gingrich's speech called for a restriction of free speech.

Gingrich's speech and statements he made subsequently show the dangers of his views and that he has not changed.

The speech and Gingrich's subsequent statements

Gingrich stated that the war on terror requires restrictions on free speech. As he put it, "I want to suggest to you that right now we should be impaneling people to look seriously at a level of supervision that we would never dream of if it weren’t for the scale of threat."

A key part of the speech came rather early:
This is a serious long term war, and it will inevitably lead us to want to know what is said in every suspect place in the country, that will lead us to learn how to close down every website that is dangerous, and it will lead us to a very severe approach to people who advocate the killing of Americans and advocate the use of nuclear of biological weapons.
(emphasis added). Remember the italicized words, especially "every." Anytime you think there is a limit to what Gingrich proposes, remember "every."

With that in mind, here are other pertinent portions of Gingrich's speech:
And, my prediction to you is that ether before we lose a city, or if we are truly stupid, after we lose a city, we will adopt rules of engagement that use every technology we can find to break up their capacity to use the internet, to break up their capacity to use free speech, and to go after people who want to kill us to stop them from recruiting people before they get to reach out and convince young people to destroy their lives while destroying us.

This is a serious problem that will lead to a serious debate about the first amendment, but I think that the national security threat of losing an American city to a nuclear weapon, or losing several million Americans to a biological attack is so real that we need to proactively, now, develop the appropriate rules of engagement.

And, I further think that we should propose a Geneva convention for fighting terrorism which makes very clear that those who would fight outside the rules of law, those who would use weapons of mass destruction, and those who would target civilians are in fact subject to a totally different set of rules that allow us to protect civilization by defeating barbarism before it gains so much strength that it is truly horrendous.
At first blush, this might not seem unreasonable. Why wouldn't we want to do whatever we could to stop people who want to kill us, especially if they are going to use nuclear and biological weapons? Surely Gingrich wants to use these measures only against terroristic barbarians with WMD, right? Well, point me to Gingrich's words which show that he would utilize such parameters. And I will point you to "every."

I will also point you to a Gingrich quote from a December 16, 2006, article from the Union Leader (newspaper in Manchester, New Hampshire). Gingrich was talking about being able to distinguish terrorists whose free speech should be restricted and non-terrorists when he said, "If you give me any signal in the age of terrorism that you're a terrorist, I'd say the burden of proof was on you." (emphasis added). There is no limitation there. There is no indication of what constitutes such a "signal." The definition of "any signal" is apparently completely at the discretion and whim of Gingrich. This is dangerous stuff, folks, and anyone who does not realize it needs to wake up. I am not even going to get into a discussion of how this "standard" is just the opposite of the basic American rule of placing the burden of proof initially on the accuser rather than the accused. Instead, I will focus on what should be done when it is necessary to place some restrictions on liberites such as free speech. Indeed, there are circumstances under which restrictions on free speech are justified. Moreover, the area of terrorism likely is one such circumstance. However, restrictions on free speech are the exception to the rule, and those exceptions need to be defined and enforced carefully; otherwise, the exception can swallow the rule. In other words, if the exception and its enforcement are left unchecked, there will be little left of free speech. Gingrich has provided absolutely no parameters for his proposed restrictions. Instead, he wants to know what is said in every suspect place, and he wants the restrictions to apply to any signal (however slight) of possible terrorist expression. And the worst part is that he provides absolutely no definition or basis for determining what would trigger his restrictions. That is how things are done in authoritarian regimes. Last time I checked, America was not an authoritarian state.

On December 17, 2006, Gingrich appeared on "Meet the Press." What he said further showed that he is proposing no real limitations AND that he has an ulterior motive.
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: You close down any Web site that is jihadist.

MR. RUSSERT: But who makes that judgment?

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Look, I—you can appoint three federal judges if you want to and say, “Review this stuff and tell us which ones to close down.” I would just like to have them be federal judges who’ve served in combat.

MR. RUSSERT: Are you concerned, however, that with carte blanche, that the government could move in and say, “This mosque is closed, this Web site is shut down”?

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: No. You have—you have more censorship in the McCain-Feingold bill, which blocks the right of free speech about American campaigns than you have from the FBI closing down jihadists. We’ve already limited the First Amendment right of free speech by a set of rules that are stunningly absurd. In California, you can raise soft money to run negative commercials attacking your opponent through the state party and you cannot raise soft money to run a positive commercial on behalf of your own candidate. That’s California state law. It’s stunningly stupid and a clear infringement of free speech.

So we’ve had a 30-year period of saying it’s OK to infringe free speech as long as it’s about politics. But now if you want to be a jihadist, and you want to go kill people, well who are we to say that’s morally wrong? I think that’s suicidal.
Where to start? I guess I will start by pointing out that Gingrich once again offered no standard by which to determine what speech will be subject to his restrictions. He did say that he would appoint three federal judges to make the decisions, but he offered no rules for them to apply, no rules which limit "any" and "every." And while requiring the judges to have served in combat is not a bad idea, that would certainly narrow the potential pool, and it would seem to me that requiring the judges to have extensive experience and backgrounds in Constitutional law would be a good idea, but apparently that is not important to Gingrich.

And then we come to the ulterior motive. Notice that when Russert raised the obvious concern about the government having carte blanche to restrict free speech, Gingrich completely avoided giving a substantive response. Instead, he basically said that restricting free speech as it relates to campaign finance is just as bad as allowing free speech relating to possible terrorism. And here is where we see Gingrich's true colors come out again. He wants to remove limits on the ability to raise money. Go back and read Parts 2, 3, and 6 to see what Gingrich did in the past about campaign finance--and in particular soft money--and what a huge hypocrite he has been on the issue. Gingrich helped start and perpetuate the system that led to all the money and lobbyist-related corruption that has engulfed the GOP, and he is still complaining about efforts to change that system. What a jackass.

The problems of the slippery slope, unchecked discretion, and irreconcilable positions.

"Slippery slope" is a term often used in the context of Constitutional law. When one steps on a slippery slope, one cannot keep from continuing a slide down the slope. Basically, using the term "slippery slope" is a way of saying that an exception can swallow the rule. In the context of restricting Constitutional rights, the term asks where the line is to be drawn--where and how does one say that a given restriction becomes too great? Gingrich has offered no answer and no way of determining an answer. Instead, he feels that "every" and "any" speech which could conceivably be viewed as threatening should be shut down.

Gingrich told the Union Leader (see the link above to the December 16 article) that "Our friends at the 'ACLU left,' of course, were staggered at this concept (of restricting free speech)." He also told Tim Russert that ACLU-types are "suicidal." This is no different from the Bush administration's bullshit rhetoric that either you agree with all of its policies or you love terrorists. This indicates that Gingrich is not interested in a real dialogue, but rather that he wants to practically demonize anyone who does not agree with his position. In short, Gingrich does not care about the slippery slope.

And here is an example. On "Meet the Press," Gingrich offered the following as showing the need for his restrictions on free speech:
Well, let’s start with an incident recently in Illinois where the FBI sold hand grenades to a jihadist who wanted to go into a mall at Christmas and blow up himself and as many people as possible.
*******
...he’s an American living in Illinois, and he’s getting on the Internet and he’s reading hate and he’s reading recruitment and he’s reading how to be a jihadist. Now, why would you tolerate that?
That is a legitimate question, but it is also legitimate to ask why we would tolerate any speech which would promote the sale or distribution of weapons or anything that could be used to make a weapon. After all, those items could end up in the hands of a potential terrorist, and such speech would come under Gingrich's "every" and "any" standard. That would mean that any website, any advertisement, any statement which promotes the sale of any kind of weapon or anything that could be made into a weapon would be restricted and probably shut down. And if free speech can be restricted to that extent, it will be easy to justify--on the same grounds--all kinds of restrictions on the sale of any weapons or anything that can be made into a weapon. Again, anyone who thinks I am wrong needs to show me where Gingrich has put any limitations on his proposed restrictions and explain how those limitations would work.

Now I know what some of you are thinking...Newt would not institute the extreme kinds of restrictions I just discussed. Well, assuming that is true, can you say the same about others? Now that Democrats are in control of the Congress, it could be possible that those freedom-hating liberals would use Gingrich's proposed restrictions to pass the most stringent gun control agenda in the world. And what about all the activist judges out there? Who knows what kind of crazy rulings they are going to come up with? The points here are that once laws with no limitations are established, 1) how they are interpreted and used are completely up to whoever is in power, and 2) a change in power likely means a change in how the laws are used.

In other words, such laws are applied solely at the discretion and whim of those in power.

Back to Newt...Perhaps he would not allow his free speech restrictions of "every" and "any" to spread to include gun control. In the past he certainly said he was against gun control, as he wrote a letter to the NRA (scroll all the way down the page) in 1995 promising that "As long as I am Speaker of this House, no gun control legislation is going to move in committee or on the floor of this House and there will be no further erosion of their rights." His record in that regard was questionable, but he nonetheless said he was against gun control. And on July 3 of this year, Gingrich revealed that
The NRA is having a Mediterranean cruise and asked if I'd [talk]. I was surprised and turned to [my wife], who said, "Which part of visiting Rome, Croatia, Greece, Turkey, and Malta do you not think is really cool?" So I said yes.
So, Newt is at least keeping up his public stance of being against gun control. Trust me, if he was not against gun control, the NRA would not be inviting him on a cruise. Now let's assume that Gingrich, as President, would have the ability to make sure that there would be no restrictions on free speech regarding the sale of guns and other weapons. If he did that, he would necessarily be violating his position of "every" and "any." That would mean that he would be selectively enforcing his laws on restricting free speech, and that would mean that the interpretation and application of the law would depend on his discretion and his whim. And that, my fellow Americans, is the antithesis of the rule of law.

And if anyone thinks they can predict how Newt would exercise such discretion, consider something he wrote in an essay that is on his own website. The essay is entitled "Securing America and its Allies by Defeating America's Enemies," and in the section called "Opponents," Gingrich gives his description of "the Irreconcilable Wing of Islam." A review of Gingrich's speech, the Union Leader article, and the "Meet the Press" transcript shows that the terrorists referred to therein are the same as "the Irreconcilable Wing of Islam." Gingrich's essay says the following:
This ideological wing of Islam is irreconcilable because...[i]t does not accept freedom of speech.
And so to combat this group he considers to be uncivilized, barbaric, intolerant, and against freedom of speech, Gingrich now wants to restrict our freedom of speech in a way that has no limit and no real definition.

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