The following [The Left’s War On Free Speech, by Kimberley Strassel] is adapted from a speech delivered on April 26, 2017, at Hillsdale College’s Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship in Washington, D.C., as part of the AWC Family Foundation Lecture Series.
I like to introduce the topic of free speech with an anecdote about my children. I have three kids, ages twelve, nine, and five. They are your average, normal kids—which means they live to annoy the heck out of each other.
Last fall, sitting around the dinner table, the twelve-year-old was doing a particularly good job at this with his youngest sister. She finally grew so frustrated that she said, “Oliver, you need to stop talking—forever.” This inspired a volley of protests about free speech rights, and ended with them yelling “shut up” at each other. Desperate to stop the fighting and restore order, I asked each of them in turn to tell me what they thought “free speech” meant.
The twelve-year-old went first. A serious and academic child, he gave a textbook definition that included “Congress shall make no law,” an evocation of James Madison, a tutorial on the Bill of Rights, and warnings about “certain exceptions for public safety and libel.” I was happy to know the private-school fees were yielding something.
The nine-year-old went next. A rebel convinced that everyone ignores her, she said that she had no idea what “public safety” or “libel” were, but that “it doesn’t matter, because free speech means there should never be any restrictions on anything that anybody says, anytime or anywhere.” She added that we could all start by listening more to what she says.
Then it was the five-year-old’s turn. You could tell she’d been thinking hard about her answer. She fixed both her brother and sister with a ferocious stare and said: “Free speech is that you can say what you want—as long as I like it.”
It was at this moment that I had one of those sudden insights as a parent. I realized that my oldest was a constitutional conservative, my middle child a libertarian, and my youngest a socialist with totalitarian tendencies.
With that introduction, my main point today is that we’ve experienced over the past eight years a profound shift in our political culture, a shift that has resulted in a significant portion of our body politic holding a five-year-old’s view of free speech. What makes this shift notable is that unlike most changes in politics, you can trace it back to one day: January 21, 2010, the day the Supreme Court issued its Citizens United ruling and restored free speech rights to millions of Americans.
Kimberley Strassel writes the weekly “Potomac Watch” column for The Wall Street Journal, where she is also a member of the editorial board. A graduate of Princeton University, her previous positions at the Journal include news assistant in Brussels, internet reporter in London, commercial real estate reporter in New York, assistant editorial features editor, columnist for OpinionJournal.com, and senior editorial page writer. In 2013 she served as a Pulliam Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Hillsdale College, and in 2014 she was a recipient of the Bradley Prize. She is the author of The Intimidation Game: How the Left Is Silencing Free Speech.
This is Part One of a multi-part series. Keep watch for the next installment!