[In case you just can't read one of Pegger's columns--she's a celebrated wordsmith, by the way--this week she actually decided to follow up last week's tale of how minimum-wage-earning airport personnel spoke brusquely to her--the one which would have led any sane columnist to resign and enter a convent--with a graphic description of being pulled out of line and subjected to "what is currently known as further screening and was generally understood 50 years ago to be second-degree sexual assault" by a wand-wielding, sadistic, bull dyke wearing a tight t-shirt. After which she complains there's too much graphic sex talk these days. Really. And she has a week between columns to think these things up.]
After that encapsulation I'm not sure I can avoid going back there later. But in the meantime, serendipity. My wife brings the newspaper home from school. And she happens to leave the front section open to the Star's line-up of like-thinking chatterers (sample: Deroy Murdock, "GOP ideas benefit blacks"). I idly flip the thing over to see what's below the fold.
Jonah Goldberg. And Peggy's now a distant second for "Stupidest Column of the Day".
Here's the first thing I don't understand. If the right-wing intelligentsia is so smart, why don't they pay Jonah to pretend to be a liberal?
Today's poorly grasped topic is Free Speech and campaign finance, prompted by the Court hearing oral arguments Tuesday over the Vermont law that limits campaign spending. Or it might be about food labeling and televised pornography. I'm not clear on this. If you want an organizing principle with Jonah you pretty much have to provide one yourself:
Most of us believe in free speech, but if you took the pages laying out the rules determining what constitutes free speech — in court documents, government regulations and the like — it would probably stretch from here to the moon and back a couple times.
That's the second paragraph of the thing. Or at least it is in the Star's edit, which leaves off the comparison of free speech to the North American Free Trade Agreement ("The thing is, if it were a real free trade treaty, it would take somewhere between a page and a sentence") in the NRO original.
I'm gonna go out on a limb here and suggest that even if every important concept in Western thought were somewhere between a page and a sentence long the Doughboy couldn't be bothered to read them. How difficult is it, really, to grasp the basic arguments over free speech we've been having since the 18th century? How tough is it to google Buckley v. Valeo before writing a column? Both are beyond Jonah, but then so is grasping the principle of principles:
This regulatory morass is no accident. It reflects both popular confusion and popular convictions about free speech. Nobody says they favor censorship, yet most Americans believe that the FCC should keep porn off broadcast television, for example. Copyright and trademark law often serves as a very useful form of censorship. It bars people from ripping off the intellectual property of others. But, technically speaking, plagiarized speech is still speech.
Popular confusion! Finally, an issue he knows something about. So just what circle of Hell are we in now, anyway? Copyright law is covered in Article I.8 Cl 8. It may impinge upon the First Amendment occasionally, and vice-versa, something you might expect a columnist for a national publication to have a passing familiarity with. Broadcast content is regulated under the Commerce clause, and occasionally runs into free speech challenges; once in a while those even make the newspapers, if there's a suitably demure shot of a bared breast involved. We are, indeed, mostly in agreement that the networks shouldn't broadcast scenes of sexual penetration during the dinner hour (or a montage of gum diseases, for that matter) but that's a well-established limit on Free Speech, like the prohibition against shouting, "Theatre!" in a crowded fire. As for prior restraint, which I guess that "plagiarized speech is still speech" is trying to hint at, no. There's no prior restraint, but neither is plagiarized speech protected. It is "still speech" only the the same way that Jonah is "making an argument". And thank God this stuff isn't settled by "popular conviction", even if that does make for more paperwork he'll never read.
Let's see; what can we misunderstand next? OK, got it!:
And of course, there is the hothouse world of "public health," which requires corporations to say things they don't want to say. Much of this is unobjectionable. There's nothing wrong with truth in advertising and the like. One can get stuck in the weeds of principle, but as a pragmatic matter, forcing companies to tell you what's in the Twinkies they're selling strikes me as a legitimate public good. But it doesn't end there. In the '90s, the Clinton administration subsidized Hollywood to put anti-drug messages in shows such as ER . Liberal elites were horrified by this, but they had no problem with the feds forcing tobacco companies to spend hundreds of millions of dollars trying to convince people not to buy their products. And surely the freedom not to speak is as sacrosanct as the freedom to speak.
What, beyond the fact that it requires looking something up, is so difficult about the principle of merchantability? Did the whole anti-regulation nonsense of the past thirty years actually drive common sense out of people's heads, or was there none there to begin with? If I piss in a bottle and sell it to you as a beer (even a Coors Light) I've broken the law. I can't yell "Free Speech!" Does someone imagine I should? Or that I should unless it strikes Jonah as a legitimate public good? Jeez Louise. Yes, I think the government subsidizing anti-drug messages in teevee shows is a bad thing. Don't you? I don't think it's a Liberal issue. Neither is anti-tobacco legislation, except to the extent that there's a knee-jerk effort in some corners of the right to portray it as a question of "freedom", though, once again, the attendant "freedom" to shoot up in public or put ground glass in a restaurant sugar bowl is conveniently left out of the argument.
And the government did not "force" tobacco companies to fund anti-smoking messages. That's part of a legal settlement arising from the fact that Big Tobacco for decades sold piss in a bottle. In other words, Jonah, Big Tobacco is on record as favoring that course of action.
I'm gonna try one more:
The biggest source of confusion stems from the Left's success in turning personal and "lifestyle" rebellion into political rebellion. We now have in this country a widespread conviction, upheld by law, that smut is protected speech. Strippers have a constitutional right, many believe, to "express" themselves. Indeed, so ingrained is this conviction that every few years or so we have a big culture-war fight over state-sponsored "art" — crucifixes in urine, bullwhip enemas, Virgin Marys in dung, etc. — and the defenders say that the revocation of a subsidy is indistinguishable from "censorship."
Y'know, last week I re-read Jean Stein's wonderful oral history of Edie Sedgwick. Her brother Bobby fell off a bicycle and broke his neck. He stood up, holding his head, and that apparently kept his spinal cord from being severed. Now I know how that must have felt.