By Nile Gardiner
Thomas Hobbes wrote that the life of man is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” Today’s White House definitely isn’t poor, lavishly feeding off the wealth of the American taxpayer, and the current presidency certainly isn’t short, with nearly four more years to run. But it is undeniably nasty and brutish, as veteran Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward has found after questioning President Obama’s narrative on the sequester issue.
Woodward, one of two reporters who broke the Watergate story that led to Richard Nixon’s downfall (immortalised in the 1976 Oscar winner All The President’s Men), has revealed to CNN's Wolf Blitzer that the White House warned him that he would “regret” his recent remarks on the sequester, made in a Washington Post column. (Read the exchange of emails between White House economic adviser Gene Sperling and Woodward posted by Politico here.) Woodward is hardly a conservative, and has been at the heart of the liberal media establishment for decades. He is, however, not afraid of challenging the status quo, as he did with his 2010 book Obama’s Wars. Woodward is not alone. Lanny Davis, another liberal columnist and former special counsel to Bill Clinton, who has penned several pieces critical of Obama’s policies, has also spoken out against similar White House tactics.
The threats being dished out to Woodward, Davis and others are extremely disturbing in a free society, and are a reflection of an imperial presidency that acts with impunity and is highly intolerant of dissent. The heavy-arm tactics that Obama’s team have deployed for years against conservatives are now being increasingly implemented as well against liberals questioning the president’s record.
Leading US political analyst Michael Barone predicted all this in a piece for National Review Online back in October 2008, when he wrote about “The Coming Obama Thugocracy.” It is an article that is strikingly accurate in its predictions. Here’s what Barone had to say before Obama even entered the White House:
“I need you to go out and talk to your friends and talk to your neighbors,” Barack Obama told a crowd in Elko, Nev. “I want you to talk to them whether they are independent or whether they are Republican. I want you to argue with them and get in their face.” Actually, Obama supporters are doing a lot more than getting into people’s faces. They seem determined to shut people up. …
Once upon a time, liberals prided themselves, with considerable reason, as the staunchest defenders of free speech. Union organizers in the 1930s and 1940s made the case that they should have access to employees to speak freely to them, and union leaders like George Meany and Walter Reuther were ardent defenders of the First Amendment.
Today’s liberals seem to be taking their marching orders from other quarters. Specifically, from the college and university campuses where administrators, armed with speech codes, have for years been disciplining and subjecting to sensitivity training any students who dare to utter thoughts that liberals find offensive. The campuses that used to pride themselves as zones of free expression are now the least free part of our society.
Obama supporters who found the campuses congenial and Obama himself, who has chosen to live all his adult life in university communities, seem to find it entirely natural to suppress speech that they don’t like and seem utterly oblivious to claims that this violates the letter and spirit of the First Amendment. In this campaign, we have seen the coming of the Obama thugocracy, suppressing free speech, and we may see its flourishing in the four or eight years ahead.
Will American liberals now stand up to the Obama White House and condemn its blatant attempts to suppress criticism and free speech? I doubt it. The Washington Post has provided relatively little coverage of the story, despite the fact that one its own star writers has been targeted. The New York Times is, unsurprisingly, completely silent (with the exception of a small mention in a single blog) on the issue. Ironically, most of the reporting of the White House’s attempts to intimidate liberal critics has come from the conservative press, led by the Drudge Report, which has propelled the story to national prominence. Both conservatives and liberals should be rallying to the defence of free speech and freedom of the press, holding the Obama presidency to account. All Americans should be concerned by government attempts to stifle press criticism in the land of the free, tactics which undermine the very foundations of liberty.