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The Left’s War on Free Speech

Kimberley Strassel
Author, The Intimidation Game: How the Left Is Silencing Free Speech


Kimberley StrasselKimberley Strassel writes the weekly “Potomac Watch” column for The Wall Street Journal, where she is also a member of the editorial board. A graduate of Princeton University, her previous positions at the Journal include news assistant in Brussels, internet reporter in London, commercial real estate reporter in New York, assistant editorial features editor, columnist for OpinionJournal.com, and senior editorial page writer. In 2013 she served as a Pulliam Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Hillsdale College, and in 2014 she was a recipient of the Bradley Prize. She is the author of The Intimidation Game: How the Left Is Silencing Free Speech.



What is to be done? For starters, we need to be aware that this is happening, and that it is not random. The intimidation game is very real. It is the work of left-wing groups and politicians, it is coordinated, and it is well-honed. Many of the targets of intimidation who I interviewed for my recent book weren’t aware of what was happening to them, and that allowed the intimidation to go on for too long. Awareness is key.

We need to think hard about ways to limit the powers of the administrative state, to stop rogue agents at the IRS and other agencies from trampling on free speech rights. We can make great progress simply by cutting the size of federal and state bureaucracies. But beyond that, we need to conduct systematic reviews of agency powers and strip from unaccountable bureaucracies any discretion over the political activities of Americans. The IRS should be doing what it was created to do—making sure taxpayers fill out their forms correctly. Period.

We need to push corporations to grow backbones and to defend more aggressively their free speech interests—rather than leaving that defense to others.

We need to overhaul our disclosure laws, and once again put the onus of disclosure on government rather than citizens. At the moment, every American who donates $200 or more to a federal politician goes into a database. Without meaning to sound cynical, no politician in Washington is capable of being bought off for a mere $200. We need to raise that donation threshold. And we need to think hard about whether there is good reason to force disclosure of any donations to ballot initiatives or to the production and broadcast of issue ads—ads designed to educate the public rather than to promote or oppose candidates.

Most important, we need to call out intimidation in any form and manner we see it—and do so instantly. Bullies don’t like to be exposed. They’d rather practice their ugliness in the dark. And one lesson that emerged from all my interviews on this topic is that speaking out works. Those who rolled over merely set themselves up for future attacks. Those who called out the intimidators maintained their rights and won the day.

Finally, conservatives need to tamp down any impulse to practice such intimidation themselves. Our country is best when it is engaging in vigorous debate. The Framers of the Constitution envisioned a multiplicity of interests that would argue their way to a common good. We succeed with more voices, not fewer, and we should have enough confidence in our arguments to hear out our opponents.