Where the Illiberal Is in Liberalism

by Bruce S. Thornton

Private Papers

The whining of Democrats and ex-Clintonistas about the “docudrama” The Path to 9/11 has given us all another example of liberal mendacity and hypocrisy. Start with the total silence of the usual civil liberties suspects to say a word about this attempt at stifling someone’s First Amendment right to free speech. Where are the ACLU and its usual clichés about the “chilling effects” of such attempts? Where are all the blowhard academics who noisily defended the noxious Ward Churchill? Where are all the quotes from John Stuart Mill usually trotted out on these occasions?

Of course these are rhetorical questions, because we all know that those lofty liberal principles always come down to whose political ox is being gored. Suspects are innocent until proven guilty — unless they happen to be privileged white kids whose alleged victim is a black woman. Leaking protected information is a heinous crime deserving of a special prosecutor and a relentless hounding in the press — unless it’s the press itself leaking information about a government program trying to keep us from getting blown up in our cubicles or airplane seats. Judging people by their race or gender is a horrible affront to justice and morality — unless you’re a college admissions officer desperate to prove his “commitment to diversity” by giving a leg up to affluent minorities and women. Tolerance of those different from us is the highest good — unless “those different” are “fundamentalist” Christians, observant Jews, people who like guns, or poor Southern whites.

Even more laughable than these blatant hypocrisies, however, is the argument that the television show should be pulled not because it is politically inconvenient for the Democrats but because it “distorts history.” What is popular culture, most of it manufactured by liberals and leftists, but a massive distortion of history? I’m not talking about taking liberties with the facts to make a good story. Cinderella Man reduces the complicated, conflicted heavyweight champion Max Baer into a cartoonish goon, but this is to provide the idealized hero with an equally demonized villain, the standard Manichean pattern of most movies — though one does wonder why the movie makes nearly invisible the big white Star of David that the historical Baer sported on his trunks.

What I’m talking about, rather, are the distortions that serve to disguise ideology or politics in the robes of history. You can almost pick movies at random and find propaganda as historically fantastical as Birth of a Nation. Arthur Penn’s much praised Bonnie and Clydetook a pair of homely psychopaths — mad-dog killers who preyed mostly on small shopkeepers and who murdered lawmen in cold blood — and turned them into glamorous Robin Hoods, thus validating the sixties fashion of glorifying violence as long as it is directed at villains (bankers, cops, etc) approved by the left. This same attitude still exists today, evident in the lefty girlish gushing over a thug like convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal. Or how about Warren Beatty’s bloated bit of communist agitprop Reds, a kitschy valentine to one of the most useful of useful idiots, John Reed, who labored on behalf of an ideology that murdered a 100 million people? More recently, Kingdom of Heaven was a perfect storm of Orwellian history, transforming the intolerant Muslims into proto-humanist apostles of tolerance, and depicting every Christian who doesn’t abjure his faith as an intolerant fanatic.  And how can we ignore the mother of all liars, Michael Moore, whose fabrications and historical distortions were rewarded with an Academy Award?

So let’s not take seriously all the crocodile tears being shed for Clio, muse of history. We all know what this is about. But let’s also be honest and remember the big mistake many conservatives made three years ago when they put pressure on CBS to pull a silly picture about Ronald Reagan, thus legitimizing the current liberal attempt to use the same tactic to censor something they don’t like. Conservatives usually know better; as I wrote at the time in an article “The Conservatives’ Pyrrhic Victory,” “Conservatives . . . usually favor a free market of ideas; their protests focus on the unfair domination of the market by one group that controls an institution. Content is not the issue, for no matter how bad or pernicious the idea, the more people who encounter it, the more its lack of merit will become apparent. A free raucous debate will generally allow the people to sort out treasures from trash; and if some trash should prevail, the same process will eventually expose its trashiness. We need to monitor the various institutions that promote ideas, of course, but for fairness, not for content. If all voices have an equal opportunity to be heard without fear of reprisal or coercion, then the market and the people who frequent it will do the rest.”

This is the argument liberals should be making about The Path to 9/11, for the issues a discussion of the film’s presumed inaccuracies could incite are extremely important.  No one should try to assign partisan blame for our collective indifference to jihadist terror, for apart from a prescient few we were all asleep at the wheel. Let’s not forget one of Ronald Reagan’s biggest mistakes: failing to punish Hezbollah and Iran for murdering 241 U.S. Marines in 1983. That was one of a series of failures that emboldened Bin Laden and culminated in 9/11. A discussion of those failures and their circumstances, even if it is provoked by a television movie, is thus very important as we enter the sixth year of a war against Islamic jihadists. Only liberals can explain why this principle they usually loudly endorse has been cast aside in this case.

Share This