Do Words Break Bones?

April 18, 2005

It’s a pretty sad day in America when one cannot criticize the judiciary and even individual judges without being accused of advocating violence against judges. This strained connection is but another example of liberals trying to chill conservative speech.

As if all the charges against House Majority Leader Tom DeLay were not enough, the Left has also implied that DeLay was inciting violence against judges by a remark he made during the Terri Schiavo turmoil.

DeLay said, in reference to judges who ruled in the Schiavo case, “The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior.”

I’m sorry DeLay apologized for the “inartfulness” of the statement (though he did not apologize for its substance). Personally, I don’t think he should have apologized at all, because nothing in it in could be construed as advocating violence against judges.

Delay had every right to speculate that the public would eventually hold judges accountable for exceeding the bounds of their constitutional authority, regardless of whether you agree with him that judges acted imperially in the Schiavo case.

It’s regrettable that some have hinted at a nexus between recent episodes of courthouse violence — the murder of a state judge in Atlanta and the massacre of a federal judge’s immediate family in Chicago — and the public’s angst against unaccountable judges. Both crimes were committed by people with case-specific motives.

No one seriously believes the murders were motivated by indiscriminate anger against the judiciary or judicial activism. It’s laughable to think the killers were crusaders on a mission to restore the constitutional separation of powers.

This spurious alleged relationship between anti-judiciary rhetoric and violence against judges is actually part of a larger anti-conservative slander the Left has been pedaling for years. The theme is simply: “Conservatives are angry, hateful individuals within a hair trigger of lurching into violence. We must discourage, even sometimes outlaw certain speech that might incite these lunatics to violence.”

Hate crime statutes and the speech codes we see on university campuses throughout the land are grounded in the notion that certain speech begets violence. Staving off such violence has long been the Orwellian justification for suppressing certain speech.

Anti-harassment and anti-bullying regulations at public high schools issue from the same mindset. It’s not bullying or harassment the drafters of these regulations are targeting — since such conduct is never permitted under any school’s behavioral code — but certain conduct-specific speech with which they disagree. No, these codes are generally designed to prevent students from airing their opinions, for example, disapproving of homosexual behavior.

At South Windsor high school in Connecticut last week, four students were sent home because they wore T-shirts with the slogan: “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” in response to an annual Day of Silence organized by the national Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. Only one side of the message — pro-homosexual — is acceptable, because to permit free speech of the opposite message is to incite violence against homosexuals.

Remember when Bill Clinton, while musing about the Oklahoma City bombing, fingered “hate-talk radio” as the “purveyors of hate and division” who “leave the impression, by their very words, that violence is acceptable?” Or how about when columnist Carl Rowan opined that he was “absolutely certain” that “the harsher rhetoric of the Gingriches and Doles creates a climate of violence in America?” Then there was Bryant Gumbel, who said, “The bombing in Oklahoma City has focused renewed attention on the rhetoric that’s been coming from the right and those who cater to angry white men.”

Let’s also not forget that former Senate Majority/Minority Leader Tom Daschle suggested that when Rush Limbaugh and others attack those in public life, their listeners “aren’t satisfied just to listen.” Daschle argued there is actually a connection between rhetoric critical of public officials and threats of violence against them.

The examples pointing to this imaginary connection, including the writings of Jeffrey Rosen and Dana Milbank in the Washington Post, are seemingly endless and varied. But the intended message is always the same: Red-staters are, on the whole, an uncivilized, unstable and violent lot who can’t be trusted not to storm into violence when their political and religious leaders issue criticisms against people or institutions.

While far too many liberals apparently can’t fathom this, conservative ideas and speech are neither hateful nor conducive to violence. It is important that conservatives recognize this Leftist tactic for the bullying and intimidation that it is and ignore it, and never surrender their right and obligation to call attention to forces, such as judicial activism, they see as damaging to the republic.