Democrats' Sixty-Year War Against Conservative Voices
The IRS’s ongoing effort to stifle conservative speech is only the latest in 60 years of Democrat efforts to marginalize conservatives. In this latest attempt, the Democrats have proved willing to give up several valued parts of their agenda – including funding for pre-kindergarten, funds for the IMF, and more dollars for ObamaCare – in order to keep proposed new IRS rules that would institutionalize the harassment of tea party groups currently under investigation.
Republicans have been willing to grant Democrats all of those agenda items if only the Democrats will delay the IRS rules governing 501(c)(4) groups. The Democrats’ refusal will be less surprising if seen as only the latest attempt in a 60-years-long attempt to shut down conservative speech. What the Democrats are ready to give in order to accomplish this goal clearly testifies to the importance they attach to the project.
But, using the following timeline, let’s review the record.
In 1962, citing a relatively new “Fairness Doctrine,” Democrats demanded free time to respond to a one-sided attack on the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty on radio station WKUL of Cullman, Alabama. While the radio station successfully defended itself before the FCC, the principle was nevertheless established that “the absence of paid sponsorship could not negate the station’s duties as a public trustee.”1 This led to a blizzard of letters demanding reply time to each critic of the test ban treaty.
One might well support the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty while seeing the threat to public discourse beginning to appear.
In 1964, Democrats used the example from two years before to develop a strategy to “use the Fairness Doctrine to challenge and harass right wing broadcasters and hope that the challenges would be so costly to them that they would be inhibited and decide it was too costly to continue."2
In 1987, out of a belief that a doctrine that had originally been meant to encourage debate was now being used to squelch it, the FCC ended Fairness Doctrine requirements.
However, also in 1987, a Democrat-controlled Congress attempted to reinstate the doctrine but was thwarted by a Ronald Reagan veto of their bill. Not to be dissuaded, Congress then attempted to override Reagan’s veto.
Then, in 1991, Congress tried again to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine, this time to again be frustrated by President Bush’s veto of the bill.
In 2007-2008, open debate about reinstituting the Fairness Doctrine broke out. A senior aide to Nancy Pelosi was quite candid about the Democrats’ motive in seeking its restoration: “Conservative radio is a huge threat and political advantage for Republicans and we have had to find a way to limit it.” Once again, attempts to restore the doctrine were unsuccessful.
But Democrats were outraged when, in 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment protected political expenditures by corporations, associations, and unions. Many remember President Obama’s unprecedented public criticism of this decision in his 2012 State of the Union speech, misrepresenting the court’s decision to the extent that Justice Alito silently mouthed, “Not true” in response to the president’s characterization. Many also believe that this was the first signal, from the president himself, that conservative groups should be targeted.
But even before the president’s speech, there were calls to rein in conservative groups. A few highlights from the last four and a half years:
A group named Public Citizen, founded by Ralph Nader, which states that its
“unifying theme is an effort to curb the impact of corporate power on American democracy,” called for closer supervision of 501(c)(4) groups.
Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.) asked IRS to ensure that 501(c)(4) groups are not taking advantage of their tax-exempt status by conducting political activity forbidden by the rules.
On June 13, Mother Jones published an article attacking what they ominously called “dark money” groups, all of whom were conservative 501(c)(4) organizations. Democrat politicians stepped up pressure on the IRS to squelch 501(c)(4) groups.
Also in 2012, mounting complaints by conservative groups of IRS harassment drew the attention of Republican congressional representatives Charles Boustany of Louisiana and Darrell Issa of California. In a congressional hearing on March 2012, Boustany asked Doug Shulman, then IRS commissioner, about the complaints, while Issa held a hearing on the matter in which he inquired into the IRS treatment of conservative groups.
Of course, all this was largely unknown until May 2013, when Lois Lerner, now well-known as a high-ranking IRS official, acknowledged that the IRS had been subjecting groups with words like Tea Party or Patriots in their names to extra scrutiny. Ostensibly, of course, the reason for heightened scrutiny was to assure that these groups had not “committed” political activity forbidden by the tax laws.
Which brings us into the realm of recent memory. The recent House Oversight Committee report on IRS treatment of conservative groups amply documents the intense pressure from left-wing interest groups and Democrat senators that prompted the heightened scrutiny of these groups. Nor is there any sign that IRS officials, most notably Lois Lerner, found responding to these pressures uncongenial to their own political commitments.
And, as the timeline above emphasizes, the history of the Democratic Party leaves no room to give it the benefit of the doubt this time. How can this recent scandal not seem just the latest effort in their decades-old attempt to suppress conservative speech, assure that conservative ideas cannot be entertained seriously, and guarantee that “the narrative” will always belong to them?
1 Friendly, Fred. The Good Guys, The Bad Guys, And The First Amendment. New York, Random House, 1975, 1976, p. 28
2 Ibid, p. 39