Published On: Sat, Aug 6th, 2011

Kerry Hopes to Chill the Debate

Opposing Ideas Don’t Deserve Same Credit, Senator Claims

by Russell Halley

Although the concept is as old as Socrates, the common phrase “the marketplace of ideas” was first coined by Justice William Brennan in a 1957 Supreme Court opinion.  Generally understood to mean the transparent exchange and competition of differing ideas and opinions, it is an essential component of any free society.

John Kerry has concluded that such a laissez faire marketplace might not be as desirable as one might think.

Yesterday on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program the senior senator from Massachusetts made this startling statement while recounting the recent debate about the debt ceiling:

“I’ve heard a lot of criticism of the President. Frankly, the President had no choice here.  Congress
had no choice here.  We did the same thing the President had to do, which is save America from a default, because a default would have been far more disastrous.  And what we had was a group of people who were completely unaware, or didn’t care about, the consequences of their actions. They were actually arguing for a default…

And I have to tell you, I say this to you politely. The media in America has a bigger responsibility than it’s exercising today. The media has got to begin to not give equal time or equal balance to an absolutely absurd notion just because somebody asserts it or simply because somebody says something which everybody knows is not factual. It doesn’t deserve the same credit as a legitimate idea about what you do. And the problem is everything is put into this tit-for-tat equal battle and America is losing any sense of what’s real, of who’s accountable, of who is not accountable, of who’s real, who isn’t, who’s serious, who isn’t.”

Who argued for default? True, there was a small group who maintained that we could meet our obligations without raising the debt ceiling, but no record of anyone arguing that we should default.  Is that the kind of “absurd notion” Kerry would quash?

Kerry must be spending a lot of time with Paul Krugman who went on record with a similar position in a post in the New York Times on July 27th:

“it’s increasingly obvious that what we’re looking at is the destructive influence of a cult that has really poisoned our political system… No, the cult that I see as reflecting a true moral failure is the cult of balance, of centrism.

So what do most news reports say? They portray it (the debt ceiling debate) as a situation in which both sides are equally partisan, equally intransigent — because news reports always do that. …What all this means is that there is no penalty for extremism; no way for most voters, who get their information on the fly rather than doing careful study of the issues, to understand what’s really going on…And yes, I think this is a moral issue.

You have to ask, what would it take for these news organizations and pundits to actually break with the convention that both sides are equally at fault? “

Apparently, Kerry and Krugman believe that the concept of Cut, Cap and Balance is absurd, objection to more Keynesian stimulus deficits is dangerous, and opposition to tax increases is an extreme position. One suspects that any conservative opinion might be defined as “an absolutely absurd notion”.

There is a term in law known as a “chilling effect”. The term describes a situation where speech or conduct is suppressed by fear of penalization at the interests of another individual or group and can affect one’s free speech.

Should the Kerry/Krugman prescriptions be adopted, it seems it would quickly lead to such a chilling effect. Kerry has a law degree; Krugman is a Nobel Prize winner.  Shouldn’t they know better?

Kerry has a history of discomfort with the free exchange of ideas in the marketplace.  In a 2007 radio interview Kerry called for the re-imposition of the so called “Fairness Doctrine” which was overturned by the FCC in 1987.

Referring to the policy change as one of the “most profound changes in the balance of the media,” Kerry complained about the 1987 rule change, saying it  was “…when the conservatives got rid of the equal time requirements and the result is that they have been able to squeeze down and squeeze out opinion of opposing views and I think its been a very important transition in the imbalance of our public eye,”

The doctrine was discarded because the FCC concluded that its constitutionality was doubtful, and although the Democrat Congress tried to imbed it in statute at that time, President Ronald Reagan vetoed the bill and it has remained dead ever since.

John Kerry must not be getting the same broadcast news the rest of us see. Here is a brief clip of CBS White House correspondent Norah O’Donnell confronting White House spokesman Jay Carney this past week. She laments that the Republicans got “everything they wanted, and we got nothing“.

O’Donnell’s bias is casual and apparent. The ongoing “squeeze down and squeeze out” of opposing views is just another example of the liberal media bias that the public understands, even if the Senator does not.

About the Author

- Russell Halley is a lifelong political voyeur. Halley started writing for weekly newspapers in the early 70's, and advanced to a successful career as a freelancer, having been published in several national magazines. Eventually, however, the call of commerce lured him away and he switched to circulation, working with many of the largest publishers around the world to increase readership. As an avocation, Russell has always followed and participated in the minutia of the political world, and migrated from a severe left wing point of view to conservatism. He was flattered when the San Jose Mercury News once described his style as “Republican Punk”, and prides himself on a certain expertise in this arena, with a perspective that he hopes sheds light on the issues of the day. Read more of Halley's clips here.