October 29 2007
What Civil Liberties
Libertarians tend to be frustrated by both political parties: Republicans tend to embrace limited government when it comes to economic issues and free markets, and Democrats protect civil liberties and personal freedoms, but neither party embraces freedom in both areas.
This description though increasingly gives the Left too much credit. It just doesn't seem true that the political Left stands up for civil liberties anymore (other than to foil American efforts in the War on Terror at least). The smoking ban movement is largely led by those on the Left, and on campuses students see their speech stifled by the hippies of old. John Fund has a piece in today's Opinion Journal that also highlights how Democrats are leaning toward greater repression of speech, by resurrecting the Fairness Doctrine:
Until the FCC scrapped the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, it required broadcasters to provide equal time to all sides of "controversial" issues. In practice, this led to what Bill Monroe, a former host of NBC's "Meet the Press," called "timid, don't-rock-the-boat coverage." On radio, Newsweek's Howard Fineman notes, it "effectively kept partisan shows off the airwaves," so that in 1980 there were a mere 75 talk radio stations. Today there are 1,800.
But the Fairness Doctrine has always had fans in the corridors of power because it gave incumbents a way of muzzling their opponents. The Kennedy administration used it as a political weapon. Bill Ruder, Kennedy's assistant secretary of commerce, explained: "Our strategy was to use the Fairness Doctrine to challenge and harass right-wing broadcasters and hope that the challenges would be so costly to them that they would be inhibited and decide it was too expensive to continue." The Nixon administration similarly used the doctrine to torment left-wing broadcasters.
Democrats who have become "Fairness" mongers insist they simply want to restore civility and balance to the airwaves. Al Gore, in a typically overheated speech last year bemoaned "the destruction of [the] marketplace of ideas" which he blamed in part on the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine, after which "Rush Limbaugh and other hate-mongers began to fill the airwaves."
Sen. Dianne Feinstein rails against "one-sided programming" that has pushed the American people into "extreme views without a lot of information." She thinks Americans deserve to know "both sides of the story." Isn't it enough that National Public Radio, subsidized by the government, serves as a vehicle for liberal voices in just about every community in the country?
True, commercial radio is dominated by conservatives, but perhaps that's because liberal arguments in their full-throated glory just haven't sold as well. Air America, the liberal talk radio network that debuted in 2004, is in perpetual financial trouble. Then there's the GreenStone talk radio network started last year by feminists Jane Fonda and Gloria Steinem. It offered cutting-edge liberal thinking pitched to a female audience--and flopped completely.
It shouldn't matter whose ideas are successful in the marketplace. The government has no business trying to create "balance" -- whatever that might mean. There is still plenty to complain about with both Right and Left, but libertarians who retain a belief that the Democrats at least stand up for civil liberties should reevaluate.