“Kirsten Powers? That foxy blonde on Fox News? Yeah, she claims to be a liberal but she’s just a sell-out. She says she’s a democrat – yeah, right. She’s always on with that blowhard Bill O’Reilly on Fox News – sorry – Faux News. She’s their token Democrat, a DINO. I mean, I don’t actually listen to what she says or read her stuff, but I know I hate her. EVERYONE I know does. Screw her! Screw Fox!”
That, in a nutshell, is likely the majority opinion of a certain type of reader if asked about Kirsten Powers, a proudly liberal democrat journalist with a history of championing liberal causes, agendas, and, yes, for somehow putting up with O’Reilly on the regular. You may even have read her work in a number of liberal-leaning outlets like Newsweek, The Daily Beast, Salon, The American Prospect, and many others. It’s an impressive resume anyone would be proud to have – check out her Wiki page – before it becomes vandalized.
The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech isn’t likely to sway those who view Powers as Fox News’ token (and very blonde) sacrificial Democrat; the title alone sounds provocative and something you’d expect from a firebrand like Ann Coulter. Heck, the book is even published by the notoriously conservative imprint Regnery Publishing – who also publish Coulter, incidentally. Sadly, to the illiberal types that Powers describes here anything remotely ‘conservative’ will always be notorious.
Unlike Coulter, however, Powers is all business, listing example after example of how a certain subset of progressive liberals have used a corroded ideology to stifle, suppress, and otherwise choke off dissenting viewpoints in the pursuit of social justice and diversity. Forged in ideological echo chambers where neither sound nor reason escapes, their actions have escalated from mildly innocuous (yet still annoying) shouting and pie-tossing protests and to violent attacks and destruction of private property. Worse still, their repertoire has expanded to the elimination of free speech and civil liberties, often under the misguided fervor of expanding them.
She deems them the “illiberal” – and their actions make McCarthyism look like rank amateurs.
The idea that power and privilege begets intolerance and suppression isn’t new; it’s the core concept used to justify the dismantling and redistribution of ‘white privilege’ often cited as the root cause of all society’s deep-rooted racism and misogyny. In fairness, there’s a case to be made that Powers’ key argument – that leftist dominance in key areas of academic, social, and political culture has led to the stifling of free speech of those they oppose – is a similar expression of the corruptive influence of power unchecked.
It’s a shame she doesn’t spend more time exploring such ideations of hegemonic abuse, even to offer examples of how intolerance isn’t limited to progressives. Whether you subscribe to this theory or not, it’s frightening how those advocating the end of intolerance are now, paradoxically, the ones imposing it.
It’s a perverse resurrection of the slave-era “one drop rule”, that odious conceit where even a drop of black blood determined one’s racial identity, updated where even a tacit defense of conservatism becomes grounds for stripping even the most dedicated liberal of membership in the club.
Victims, Powers argues, are usually white Christian conservative males. But it’s not just those leading the patriarchy that find themselves on the wrong side of illiberal wrath; women, blacks, Hispanics, gays, even feminists themselves will feel the hammer of social justice come down on them if they dare stray from the approved ideological pogrom.
“With no sense of irony or shame, the illiberal left will engage in racist, sexist, misogynist, and homophobic attacks of their own in an effort to delegitimize people who dissent from the “already decided” worldview. Non-white conservatives are called sellouts and race traitors. Conservative women are treated as dim-witted, self-loathing puppets of the patriarchy, or nefarious gender traitors.” In effect, she writes, “The illiberal left sees its bullying and squelching of free speech as a righteous act.”
She cites several examples how progressive illiberals maintain an iron-fist control over most of academia and social-media, the zeal to clamp down on resistance, by any means necessary, is often left unchecked. This has led to the creation of rancid ‘free speech zones’, zero tolerance policies, and the creation of preemptive terms like “mansplaining,” “whitesplaining,” and “microaggression” to effectively neuter dissent before it happens (and those are some of the nice ones).
Powers directs most of her criticism, rightfully so, on modern feminism, zeroing in on a branch commonly known as radical feminists (nearly indistinguishable from your typical SJW – Social Justice Warrior), whose corrupted doctrine of ‘fairness’ and sexual empowerment has led them to discarding facts, science, statistics – even the presumption of innocence – in their crazed zeal to push and punish all those who oppose them – even their fellow feminists.
Interestingly, to help promote the book Powers recently participated in an Oxford-style debate from Intelligence Squared playfully titled “Do Liberals Stifle Intellectual Diversity On The College Campus?” broadcast on NPR. Debating alongside Powers was FIRE’s Greg Lukianoff while arguing against were Angus Johnston, founder of StudentActivism.net and ‘advocate of student organizing’, and George Mason University associate professor Jeremy Mayer. Before arguments began just 33 percent of respondents voted in favor of the motion that liberals were, indeed, stifling free speech on campuses.
Powers and Lukianoff argued with facts, statistics, and anecdotes – many which can be found in this very book (pretty savvy, Powers). Johnston and Mayer, on the other hand, relied on self-reporting analysis that liberal-dominated academia would never engage in intellectual stifling of conservative students. Powers argued, correctly, that anti-Free Speech policies and ideological campaigns to suppress opposing opinion harmed both liberal and conservative students. Left unchecked, will continue to consume everything in their path.
At the conclusion Powers and Lukianoff had increased support of the motion to a whopping 59 percent, easily ‘winning’ the debate; a clear victory across two mediums – academia and NPR – not exactly favorable to conservative ideologies. It’s a fascinating exchange that I encourage anyone interested to check it out for themselves.
Not to diminish the work Powers has accomplished here, but The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech acts almost like a companion to the internet itself. Take a glance at your news feed – liberal or otherwise – and you’ll see countless examples of this repression and open censorship popping up all the time. Given the rise of such blatant anti-intellectualism masking as tolerance of cultural diversity you’ll see this isn’t cherry picking for effect; the oppressors have begun to eat their own. One need only read Martin Niemöller to see how this might end. Seriously, look him up.