THE NEW THOUGHT POLICE: Inside the Left's Assault on Free Speech and Free Minds.

THE NEW THOUGHT POLICE: Inside the Left's Assault on Free Speech and Free Minds.

Harvey A. Silverglate

By Tammy Bruce. Prima Forum. 300 pp. $23.95

Read Time:
3m 9sec

THE NEW THOUGHT POLICE: Inside the Left’s Assault on Free Speech and Free Minds.

By Tammy Bruce. Prima Forum. 300 pp. $23.95

There is much to quibble about in this polemic, but to judge it by the standards of an academic treatise, or even those of a comprehensive popular book, would be to miss an absolute jewel with a vitally important message. Bruce points out the futility and the dangers of trying to advance civil rights by restricting civil liberties. Along the way, she provides an insider’s—indeed, an apostate’s—account of the hostility that much of the contemporary Left feels toward independent thinking.

A columnist and a former president of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW), Bruce sets the tone with the story of the Dr. Laura battle. While preaching toleration of gays and lesbians, TV talkshow host Laura Schlessinger expressed the view that homosexuality results from a "biological error." Led by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), a coalition of feminist, gay, and purportedly antibigotry organizations launched a mammoth protest. It aimed not to discredit Schlessinger’s ideas, which were widely and wildly misrepresented, but to silence her. "If she can’t be controlled," GLAAD executive director Joan Garry is quoted as saying, "she must be stopped." Major advertisers abandoned Dr. Laura, TV stations moved it from mid-morning to postmidnight slots, and the production company finally canceled it.

Bruce characterizes herself as "an openly gay, pro-choice, gun-owning, pro-death penalty, liberal, voted-for-Reagan feminist," an ideological blend that didn’t endear her to feminist leaders. When Bruce led the Los Angeles NOW chapter, the organization’s national leadership pressured her not to criticize O. J. Simpson as a wife beater. Alienating black organizations and leaders could endanger the coalition built around race, gender, ethnicity, and sexual identity. Liberation, Bruce realized, was secondary; the principal goal was defending this alliance of victims.

Though Bruce’s descriptions of the depredations of the contemporary antiliberty Left are compelling and, from my own experience, on target, her explanations sometimes sound a bit facile. She notes the double standard embodied in university speech codes, for instance, but says little about its philosophical origins. Her concluding chapter equates devotion to capitalism with devotion to liberty, an argument that overlooks the long tradition of leftists devoted to free speech—not to mention the occasional capitalist who would gladly tolerate a police state so long as the trains run on time.

Bruce is at her best when telling stories, some of which are more extraordinary than she realizes. During the Simpson trial, she wrote to Judge Lance Ito and complained that he was treating prosecutor Marcia Clark with less courtesy than he was lavishing on the male attorneys. At Ito’s invitation, Bruce and a fellow NOW leader went to the judge’s chambers for a private, off-the-record meeting. Afterward, Ito seemed to treat the female prosecutor with greater respect. "Although that event did not have an impact on the trial’s eventual outcome," Bruce writes, "it’s an example of a kind of activism that can and must be engaged in."

It’s also the kind of activism that, had Simpson been convicted, might well have triggered a reversal. Judges aren’t supposed to meet with partisans in the middle of a trial, even partisans seeking nothing more than courtroom courtesy. But the lack of legal sophistication that allows Bruce to tell the Ito story so innocently also accounts for much of the unvarnished power and directness that make her book a valuable contribution to the literature of liberty.

—Harvey A. Silverglate

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