I've written before about campaigns to punish something for positions they hold or things they've said. I've said they are in opposition to the spirit of free speech when used as an excuse to silence someones. I've also given them a limited defense when used to disqualify someone from an institutional position out of concern for their competence. I'm concerned this may be special pleading on my part, but I am trying to make an important distinction. This is a gray issue.
Members of the left are currently campaigning to pull Rush Limbaugh from the air, and are using his latest blowout as an excuse. This involves people boycotting companies they would never purchase from in the first place unless they stop sponsoring the program.
Their usual defense is, it's my right of free speech to tell these companies what I think, and as a customer, I can refuse to support a company for any reason I want. Both of these points are true, but miss the point.
These campaigns to yank the platform from a private speaker are not in the spirit of free speech. Just as voting for a candidate who promises to become a dictator if elected would not be in the spirit of democracy, using free speech to block other people from hearing a controversial speaker is not in the spirit of free speech.
It's what Bill O'Reilly was talking about when he said a campaign to fire Ellen DeGeneres as spokeswoman for JC Penney department stores because she's gay "isn't in the spirit of America" despite being a perfectly legal action under American law.
The same thing was true when the conservative Florida Family Association used identical tactics to get Lowes to pull sponsorship from the show All-American Muslim because they didn't want a show portraying Muslims as good Americans on the air.
But my political opponents will say that in both those cases, the campaign's were wrong and bigoted. In Limbaugh's case, he truly was saying something offensive. He was, but the people who jumped on these platform yanking campaigns were just being opportunistic to strike at someone they didn't like.
I've had to go to the Huffington Post to find other people who agree with me:
Democrats in Congress, attacking the conservative talk show host, claim to be outraged, shocked and offended. But, like Claude Rains in the movie Casablanca ("I'm shocked! Shocked to find gambling going on here!"), they are actually delighted! delighted! at Limbaugh's failure of self-censorship, and not remotely surprised by the sentiments so revealed. For liberals in Washington, Limbaugh's gaffe is like a warm, sunny day in February.That was Peter Scheer. In a post titled "Rush Limbaugh's Advertiser Desertion Feels Good, But Why Doesn't It Feel Right?" Scott Mendelson wrote:
I have to admit that it's a little disarming -- scary, even -- to see the blinding speed and brutal effectiveness with which this activism took place. It feels good because I happen to be on the same side of the political (and moral) fence as the activists. But what happens next time we get targeted... again?The issue here is what I call the "vegan potluck" approach to controversy. Vegans will only eat vegan food, and the rest of the public can eat vegan food as well, but vegans can't eat normal food. Even if only one percent of the pot-luckers are vegan, organizers striving to avoid controversy can make all the food vegan-friendly. The problem is that most vegan food tastes awful, and a lot of people will have a miserable meal.
Vegan potlucks cater to the hypersensitive and that's what tolerating these tactics lead to. But what is the defense for platform yanking? The only thing that I believe will work is an arms race of boycotts
About a month ago the Komen Foundation tried to commit the unspeakable act of not giving money to Planned Parenthood, which was mischaracterized as opposing Planned Parenthood and not simply taking a neutral stance. This action was reversed after a boycott and media campaign.
Unless we want businesses to be held hostage by whining, the best option is to whine back. I don't think conservatives will ever be able to muster the fake outrage of the left, but both sides have a lot of experience with it. The secondary pretend-boycott does not have to be larger than the first, it just has to be big enough to tip the scales back to where they were.