A les­son in free speech

The snowflakes must learn that ‘pol­i­tics ain’t bean­bag’

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

It was not, to put it mildly, el­e­gantly stated. In a speech in Cal­i­for­nia to the Coun­cil on Is­lamic-Amer­i­can Re­la­tions (CAIR) not long ago, Rep. Il­han Omar of Min­nesota, a Demo­crat, dis­missed the 9⁄11 de­struc­tion of the World Trade Cen­ter in New York City as merely “some peo­ple did some­thing.”

“CAIR was founded after 9⁄11,” said Ms. Omar, the first Mus­lim woman elected to Congress, “be­cause they rec­og­nized that some peo­ple did some­thing and that all of us were start­ing to lose ac­cess to our civil lib­er­ties.”

Ms. Omar got it fac­tu­ally wrong. CAIR was founded sev­eral years be­fore 9⁄11. In the wake of those at­tacks, the U.S. gov­ern­ment went out of its way to en­sure that Mus­lim Amer­i­cans were not sin­gled out. (That’s why ev­ery­body must put up with body searches at the air­port.) Who can for­get Pres­i­dent George W. Bush, be­ing gen­er­ous, call­ing Is­lam “a re­li­gion of peace?”

But the worst was how she dis­missed as triv­ial the killing of 3,000 in­no­cent Amer­i­cans. That nat­u­rally drew harsh crit­i­cism from a wide range of prom­i­nent me­dia fig­ures, politi­cians, and even­tu­ally Pres­i­dent Trump. The pres­i­dent tweeted a video jux­ta­pos­ing Ms. Omar’s flip­pant re­marks with grisly footage from that aw­ful day. The New York Post pub­lished a graphic front page chastis­ing Rep. Omar.

Mr. Trump’s video was tough, vis­ceral, and per­haps, to the pain of a few snowflakes, “un­pres­i­den­tial.” But it was per­fectly within the bounds of po­lit­i­cal dis­course. “Pol­i­tics ain’t bean bag,” as Mr. Doo­ley (a Demo­crat) ob­served, and in a demo­cratic system like our own, politi­cians revel in at­tack­ing one an­other. That’s the point of a demo­cratic re­pub­lic.

Nev­er­the­less, the usual Greek cho­rus erupted to sug­gest that the pres­i­dent had en­dan­gered the fresh­man mem­ber of Congress. The mes­sage was sim­ple, that re­buk­ing Rep. Omar is out of bounds.

New York Rep. Alexan­dria Oca­sioCortez, who in a sane world would be an ob­scure back­bench con­gress­woman but who has be­come the face of the Demo­cratic Party, in­sists that crit­i­cism of Rep. Omar is “in­cite­ment of vi­o­lence against a pro­gres­sive woman

of color.” Chris Hayes of MSNBC tweeted that the “pres­i­dent is ac­tively and will­fully en­dan­ger­ing the life of a mem­ber of Congress.” El­iz­a­beth War­ren, the Mas­sachusetts sen­a­tor and a mem­ber of the le­gion of Democrats run­ning for pres­i­dent, said “the pres­i­dent is in­cit­ing vi­o­lence against a sit­ting Con­gress­woman.” Beto O’Rourke, the for­mer Texas con­gress­man once the lead­ing pres­i­den­tial Demo­crat wannabe un­til he was eclipsed by the mayor of South Bend, In­di­ana, and now by Bernie San­ders, said crit­i­cism of Rep. Omar amounted to “an in­cite­ment to vi­o­lence.” Rep. Joe Kennedy III of Mas­sachusetts chimed in that “Pres­i­dent Trump un­der­stands the weight his words carry. His tweet about Con­gress­woman Il­han Omar puts her life and her fam­ily’s lives at risk.”

This is per­ni­cious non­sense. The Amer­i­can system of gov­ern­ment is pred­i­cated on dis­agree­ment— tough, even uncivil dis­agree­ment at times. Cast­ing le­git­i­mate crit­i­cism as an “in­cite­ment to vi­o­lence” is a naked at­tack on free­dom of speech, and the open Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal system. This isn’t the first time that elites have sought to pro­tect Rep. Omar from le­git­i­mate crit­i­cism. She has made sev­eral vi­cious re­marks about Is­rael, in­clud­ing a tweet suggest­ing that Is­rael buys the loy­alty of Amer­i­can politi­cians.

Pres­i­dent Trump, in a re­cent speech to the Repub­li­can Jewish Coali­tion in Las Ve­gas, drew at­ten­tion to Rep. Omar’s re­marks in a per­fectly fair ex­er­cise of po­lit­i­cal speech. The Wash­ing­ton Post nev­er­the­less cast it in a ban­ner head­line as some­thing fraught with dark fore­bod­ing: “Trump says Rep. Omar ‘doesn’t like Is­rael’ one day after man was charged with threat­en­ing to kill her.” Be­cause Rep. Omar, like many pub­lic fig­ures, had re­cently been threat­ened, she could not be crit­i­cized. This chill­ing at­ti­tude would en­sure the si­lenc­ing of much po­lit­i­cal de­bate, given that in a coun­try of more than 330 mil­lion peo­ple, politi­cians draw threats from wackos all the time.

Pres­i­dent Trump him­self is likened to Hitler ap­prox­i­mately 1,000 times a day. Is this silly and over­wrought crit­i­cism? Of course it is. But is it an “in­cite­ment to vi­o­lence?” Of course it isn’t. Pol­i­tics is a game any num­ber can play, but no­body gets im­mu­nity from fair crit­i­cism, sharp or ex­tra-sharp.

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