One might be tempted to pen a dark comedy about it. Don’t bother. President Barack Obama has just added this latest act to his own peculiar satire, authored by his speechwriters and scripted by professional censors.
In Shanghai, China to bolster relations between China and the U.S., he appeared in a “town hall” that was as thoroughly rigged as his press conferences and other “town hall” meetings in the U.S. He addressed a group of Chinese government-vetted students and answered eight pre-selected questions from the audience and over the Internet.
“You see, freedom of speech in America is not given to the people by the president but is something that the people use to supervise their government and president, to protect themselves.”
No, don’t take heart. Obama did not say it. It was said by a Chinese blogger and novelist, Yang Hengjun (on Twitter via a proxy server, because Twitter is blocked in China) in admiration for and agreement with Obama‘s assertion that Americans can criticize their political leaders without fear of reprisal. Hengjun understands what neither Obama nor his White House minions and departmental appointees do not: that a free press and free speech can oppose, criticize, and even check the depredations of government.
Hengjun understood that freedom of speech is a right that originates in individuals, and is not a privilege or right bestowed by a government on a nation’s citizens.
What Obama said about Sino-American relations in Shanghai is irrelevant here. China is the largest creditor of the U.S., holding about $800 billion in U.S. government securities, perhaps only three times what a health-care bill is estimated to cost over a decade. China is not going to sign any climate change treaty next month in Oslo that would oblige it to cut back on CO2 emissions, and so agree to economic suicide, no matter how much Obama “prods“ the super creditor. Nor is it going to cease censoring its press or the Internet, it is never going to cease suppressing freedom of speech. China is a totalitarian country. It hosted the visit of a nascent totalitarian, President Obama. It allowed him to visit to amuse him, and to take his measure, just as Europe and the Mideast allowed him to visit, to make his speeches, and to take his measure.
While Obama and his team indulged in wishful thinking, the Chinese government called all the shots.
The particulars of the town hall, including whether it could even be called one, were the subject of delicate negotiations between the White House and the Chinese up to the last minute. It remained unclear, for instance, whether – and how broadly – it would be broadcast on television and how much of a hand the central government had in choosing those allowed to question the U.S. president.
Obama deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said Obama would call at random on several of those in the audience, to be made up of hundreds of students hand-picked by the department heads of Shanghai-area universities, and would also answer questions solicited in advance by the White House from “various sources on the Internet.”
What Obama said in China about freedom and speech and censorship, however, is far more relevant here, because it bodes ill for the future of freedom of speech in America. In answer to a question about the “Great Firewall of China” — the Chinese government’s absolute control over what is said and seen on the Internet — a question asked, incidentally, not by a Chinese student, but by the U.S. ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, he replied:
“I’m a big supporter of non-censorship,” Obama said. “I recognize that different countries have different traditions. I can tell you that in the United States, the fact that we have free Internet — or unrestricted Internet access — is a source of strength, and I think should be encouraged.”
Obama is a “big supporter of non-censorship”? What is “non-censorship”? Is it an awkward grasp of the concept of freedom of speech, or an inverted synonym? No. It cannot even have an antonym. If, to paraphrase the Oxford English Dictionary definition of censor, censorship is the “inspection of all books, journals, dramatic pieces, etc., before publication, to secure that they shall contain nothing immoral, heretical, or offensive to the government,” then non-censorship is an anti-concept. It is the “not censoring” of speech in any venue or form. That is, it is the staying of the government’s hand to censor it. It is the implicit acknowledgement that a government has the power and the will to censor, but chooses not to, for the moment. It is an Orwellian anti-concept possible only to a power-seeker at home with censoring and non-censoring.
Obama did not say that he is a “big supporter of freedom of speech” for two reasons: It would have been offensive to the Chinese totalitarian government — and because he does not believe in it.
Obama stated that he recognized that “different countries have different traditions. I can tell you that in the United States, the fact that we have free Internet — or unrestricted Internet access — is a source of strength, and I think should be encouraged.
He avoided the term “freedom of speech” again, and likened it to “tradition,” or custom. Message to China’s communist/fascist rulers: You have a long tradition of censorship and suppression of speech. On the other hand, we in the United States have a long “tradition” of freedom of speech. So, it’s just a difference of tradition. I won’t make a distinction between our traditions and yours, nor judge your regime.
And for how long does Obama intend our free Internet to be a “source of strength”? Not for long.
Which brings us to his term “unrestricted Internet access,” a euphemism for one of Obama’s key goals, “net neutrality,” or, government control and censorship of the Internet. He promised to promote and enact such controls two years ago on MTV. Net neutrality, in a nutshell, is “the idea that broadband operators shouldn’t be allowed to block or degrade Internet content and services–or charge content providers an extra fee for speedier delivery or more favorable placement.”
Suppose broadband operators want to block or degrade Internet content they do not wish to carry? Suppose customers do not mind paying extra for speedier delivery and more favorable placement? Well, that is beside the point, according to Obama. Like newspapers and other venues of speech and entertainment, broadband operators are regarded as “public servants” serving the public by providing it information and entertainment, and should not be permitted to discriminate against any comers. Moreover, no one should be permitted to discriminate in their favor, that is, exercise his freedom of choice. All must be “equal.”
To better concretize the issue: State-mandated smoking bans in restaurants, bars, businesses and other venues — in some localities, even in one’s own residence or in a public park — are enacted to favor an alleged majority of non-smokers for purported health reasons. This is the literal, partial seizure of private property for the benefit of one group. Call it the selective application of the power of eminent domain, in answer to the proclaimed “right” of non-smokers to drink or dine or work in a smoke-free, “un-degraded” environment, in defiance of the fact that they drink, dine or work in an environment that is someone else‘s property.
Business owners and proprietors nominally own their property or enterprises — but only for as long as they submit to the ban. They are not allowed to discriminate between smokers and non-smokers — call it “patron neutrality,” with a patron forbidden to light up lest he offend someone or “endanger” someone’s health — and all customers must be reduced to the same state of being non-smokers.
Extrapolate that phenomenon to the Internet — substitute bars, restaurants and businesses with broadband operators — now call them providers, “neutral” bureaucratic jargon for anyone or any business that creates and offers a “service,” a term that has spread like a corrosive into virtually every realm of trade — and it is easy to see what the consequences will be: a government policed Internet, just like the Chinese one. One will hear only what the government wishes one to hear, read, or watch.
Obama may have been hoping to set a personal example for China’s leaders when he said he believes that free discussion, including criticism that may be annoying to him, [that] makes him “a better leader because it forces me to hear opinions that I don’t want to hear.”
Obama has made it eminently clear that he would rather not risk hearing opinions that conflict with his own. Recall his efforts to enlist Americans, at the height of the nationwide Tea Parties, to report “fishy” opinions about him and his administration directly to the White House. Remember that he wishes to compel radio and television stations to comply with a new “Fairness Doctrine” under the magic cloak of “diversity” and has chosen members of his Politburo to monitor and enforce that policy.
He appointed Mark Lloyd chief diversity officer of the Federal Communications Commission, who wishes to make private broadcasting companies pay licensing fees equal to their total operating costs to allow public broadcasting outlets to spend the same on their operations as the private companies do.
Obama appointed Julius Genachowski, his former Harvard Law School classmate and a busybody social worker, as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Doubtless he will do Obama’s bidding, just for old times’ sake, and formulate a new speech policy that would regulate the Internet to ensure net neutrality.
Last week, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski proposed strengthening the agency’s current guidelines on net neutrality by formally adopting them as regulation. He also proposed two additional rules, including one aimed at preventing Internet companies from discriminating against any traffic to certain types of content or services. In other words, all traffic would have to be treated the same.
Net neutrality was a cornerstone of Obama’s technology priorities during his campaign. Genachowski, his top campaign tech adviser, was a key architect behind those plans.
Cass Sunstein, head of the White Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, can rule on virtually any brand of speech anywhere. Indeed, one blogger reported:
The recent Obama intended appointment of Cass Sunstein…is the next nail in the coffin of the First Amendment. In this position Sunstein will have powers that are unprecedented and very far reaching; not merely mind-boggling but with explicit ability to use the courts to stifle free speech if it opposes Obama policies. In particular, Sunstein thinks that the bloggers have been “rampaging out of control” and that “new laws need to be written” to contain them.
Doubtless this blogger, as well as countless others who disagree with Obama that the Constitution is “deeply flawed,” has been marked for gagging by administration snoops and FCC bloodhounds on the scent of “non-diversity.”
Of course, Mao admirer Anita Dunn, White House communications director and failed Fox-hunter who was a “victim” of opinions Obama would rather not hear, is gone, “but will remain as a consultant to the White House on the communications and strategic matters.” Her husband, attorney Robert Bauer and a long-time Obama devotee, has been appointed White House counsel to fend off more “frivolous” allegations and charges against Obama and members of his “team,” a political organization whose suffocating power is intended to extend from the White House rose garden to every nock and cranny of American life.
The satire is that in Shanghai, Obama was subjected to the same censorship that he wishes to impose on America. It was the professional totalitarians showing the ropes to an amateur.