Among my many strong principles is this one: Disagree with whatever Ann Coulter says. Actually, Ann is not the only one; she’s really just a fill-in-the-blank name on my page reserved for ridiculously cruel commentators who build their followings with their limitless shock stock of tacky offensiveness. They manage to be both uninhibited and calculating at the same time. Every poisonous word they utter, every inflammatory tweet they type, every dangerous stunt they concoct is aimed at getting publicity. That is their guiding unprincipled principle.
Pathetic though they are, and she is, I’m going to stand with Ann Coulter — after donning a hazmat suit, of course. She decided that she would forgo an invitation and not make an appearance after all at the University of California-Berkeley, telling The New York Times, “It’s a sad day for free speech.”
She and her sponsors caved after realistic threats of organized violence caused UC-Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks to intervene, based on the perceived certainty of rioting. “This,” he declared, “is a university, not a battlefield.” But this is not just any university. This is UC-Berkeley, where the free-speech movement erupted in the ’60s. Campuses were battlefields, where the idea of resisting the civil rights and Vietnam status quos paradoxically found safe haven.
Those were the campuses then. Now, sadly, the fundamental American value of debate, even angry debate, is being stifled. Someone along the way decided that the students had turned from rebels in their formative years, willing to fight for their ideas against anyone else’s, to delicate little flowers who must be shielded from any concept that might offend their coddled existences. The college of today is more like a Sunday school, a bubble that doesn’t allow any disruption to penetrate and challenge the kiddies’ fragile minds.
These days, those who don’t follow the liberal script — it’s usually liberal — are rejected out of hand. And don’t let anyone who has another point of view anywhere near the place, no matter how famous. Unfortunately, that also includes the distinguished likes of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, all the way to the gutter where the Ann Coulters of this world slither.
Speaking of Ann Coulter, Bernie Sanders (remember him?) had a good question for the so-called educators in Berkeley: “What are you afraid of — her ideas?” Sanders and Coulter are not exactly BFFs.
There has always been the tension between hateful opinions and the right to express them. A famous case in 1978 pitted American Nazis against the Chicago suburb of Skokie, Ill. Skokie was heavily Jewish, the Nazis wanted to march there, but the city refused to issue a permit. Who took on the Nazi case? The liberal American Civil Liberties Union, champions of free speech. Even when some Jewish members resigned, the ACLU successfully stuck with the Nazis, all the way to the Supreme Court. The lesson seems to have been lost in time that no matter how repugnant the arguments, they are no more so than our government suppressing them.
It’s a lesson that seems to have been forgotten at the highest levels of our education system. There will always be Ann Coulters. Unless they rediscover free speech, there might not always be colleges.
© 2017 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Synd.