If anyone is still curious about the conservative on-again off-again love affair with free speech, a couple of recent examples of high-level intimidation in the US might be instructive. Free speech is for speech that conservatives like, or at least are prepared to tolerate—”pas d’ennemis à Droite.” Otherwise, step carefully.
Check out the judicial assault on veteran climate scientist Michael Mann by one Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, the Republican attorney general of Virginia. The story in outline is here. Readers will note that my link is to a global warming sceptic site, whose members seem as disconcerted by this as any proponent of the AGW theory.
Mann has been through the political mill before, and survived. Today one of his Republican interlocutors on that earlier occasion is embarrassed:
Sherwood L. Boehlert, a retired Republican congressman from New York and a former chairman of the House Science Committee, is among those who have sharply criticized Mr. Cuccinelli’s tactics.
“I find no logical explanation for spending taxpayer dollars on this politically designed, headline-grabbing pursuit of his,” said Mr. Boehlert, whose panel in 2006 investigated nearly identical charges by climate skeptics that Dr. Mann had falsified results but found no evidence of wrongdoing.
Cuccinelli’s trick is identical to those of the anti-AGW fanatics who launched a concerted attack on scientists at the University of East Anglia—demand ever-larger quantities of documents under access to information laws to harass researchers and prevent them from getting on with their work.
This organized abuse largely came to naught with respect to the British scientists, of course. But Cuccinelli, a stalwart Tea Partyer, is pressing merrily ahead, using his legal clout to engage in exactly the same sort of harassment.
Not only does he want to go on a fishing expedition through Mann’s files, but he is also suing the Environmental Protection Agency. And he has attracted support from his fellow wingnuts in Congress:
Mr. Cuccinelli is suing the Environmental Protection Agency over its ruling that carbon dioxide and other global warming gases pose a threat to human health and welfare, describing the science behind the agency’s decision as “unreliable, unverifiable and doctored.”
Now his allegations of manipulated data and scientific fraud are resonating in Congress, where Republican leaders face an influx of new members, many of them Tea Party stalwarts like Mr. Cuccinelli, eager to inveigh against the body of research linking man-made emissions to warming.
“There’s a huge appetite among the rank-and-file to raise fundamental questions about the underlying science,” said Michael McKenna, a Republican strategist and energy lobbyist.
Responding to those concerns, the new Republican majority has introduced legislation that would strip federal regulators of their power to police the industrial emissions that contribute to climate change. But party leaders, treading warily, have cast their arguments against regulation largely in terms of economic consequences, playing down the prospect of major hearings to examine the scientific basis of human-caused warming.
Even dedicated opponents of climate action concede that hauling climate scientists before Congress and challenging their findings could easily backfire, as many representatives lack a sophisticated grasp of climatology and run the risk of making embarrassing errors. [emphases added]
But global warming isn’t the only issue that is bringing out the Republican goon squad. Try investigating the Wisconsin Republicans’ connections with a conservative outfit called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
Bill Cronon will give you chapter and verse on that. Grab a coffee and read it all. He’s a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin, recently elected as the head of the American Historical Association. He dared to criticize Governor Scott Walker’s union-busting crusade, and uncovered the involvement of ALEC in it.
That quickly attracted the thugs:
Earlier this month, [Cronon] was asked to write an Op-Ed article for The [New York] Times on the historical context of Gov. Scott Walker’s effort to strip public-employee unions of bargaining rights. While researching the subject, he posted on his blog several critical observations about the powerful network of conservatives working to undermine union rights and disenfranchise Democratic voters in many states.
In particular, he pointed to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group backed by business interests that circulates draft legislation in every state capital, much of it similar to the Wisconsin law, and all of it unmatched by the left. Two days later, the state Republican Party filed a freedom-of-information request with the university, demanding all of his e-mails containing the words “Republican,” “Scott Walker,” “union,” “rally,” and other such incendiary terms. (The Op-Ed article appeared five days after that.)
The fact that the late, unlamented Joe McCarthy hailed from Wisconsin is not lost on Cronon, although he’s been cautious in drawing parallels. But we should keep McCarthyist tactics very much in mind, whether it’s pretending to discover “anti-Semites” under every pro-Palestinian bush, or using political bully-boy tactics to shut down scientific inquiry. “Free speech” for conservatives is a blind, and always has been—a liberal/libertarian rallying-cry used as a tool by the Right when convenient, but quickly discarded when suitable targets present themselves.
Make no mistake: the war against intellectual inquiry could spread north. In fact, it already has: our crypto-creationist Minister of Science and Technology, the evil-tempered Gary Goodyear, tried to interfere with an arms-length agency that had approved funding for an academic conference at York University. Scientists working for the federal government have been muzzled, and the ones over at the National Research Council have now been ordered by a Harper-appointed Calgary businessman to give priority to pleasing “customers” instead of pursuing pure scientific research. Under a Harper Majority™, just how long would it be before the Panzers rolled up to the ivory towers?
[H/t Holly Stick]