I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Still more cries for help from campus conservatives

Last week, National Review published an unbelievably petty and vapid article about a faux controversy at Thomas Jefferson Law School in San Diego, where a bunch of Federalist Society law students are trying to turn themselves into victims because they invited a conservative author to give a speech, and the law school’s Dean and other students criticized the author's views. Nobody sought to suppress the students’ views or prevent their guest from speaking. Instead, the students were upset, and National Review apparently thought it was a newsworthy instance of campus repression, all because other students and the Dean expressed disagreement with the conservative viewpoint.

As I pointed out in response to that article, campus conservatives have become the new PC whiners, equating mere exposure to divergent views with some sort of oppressive assault and diversity-snuffing tyranny. If faculty members, administrators or other students condemn – not suppress, but simply condemn – the views of conservative students, they start screeching that they have been treated unfairly. Such complaints are as tiresome to listen to as they are incoherent.

Not to be outdone, this week’s entry in this increasingly competitive genre of self-absorbed, contrived campus controversies is offered up by Weekly Standard, which published an article recounting the tragic plight of Kate Thornton Buzicky. Mr. Buzicky is an Army First Lieutenant and also a Harvard Law student, studying for a career in the Judge Advocate General's Corps. Ms. Buzicky feels that she is treated unfairly by her peers because she is in the military and many of them have negative views about the military.

The article is ominously entitled "The limits of liberal tolerance at Harvard Law School".

Now, based on this title, and based on the fact that the editors thought there was something here worth discussing, you would think Ms. Buzicky would tell the tale of how she was disciplined in some way, or banned from expressing her views, or shouted down in the classroom, or forced to leave the military if she wanted to stay at Harvard, or physically assaulted, or otherwise impeded from exercising all of the rights which the liberals students at Harvard Law enjoy, right?

Well, you would be wrong. Nothing of the sort happened to her.

All she offers is what campus conservatives these days have decided constitutes sufficient evidence to declare themselves victims and cry for help. It seems other people at Harvard Law don’t like the military, and far worse, they actually express this opinion to her. Here is one illustrative, traumatizing encounter she bravely recounts for us:

At places like Harvard, the military is a rarity on campus. One January morning last year, I was sitting outside a classroom with some classmates waiting for our Civil Procedure exam to begin. A male student stopped to greet us. He was wearing a puffy vest over what looked like an old version of the Army physical training sweatshirt--the oatmeal gray cotton zip-up. I asked him if it was an Army sweatshirt (the vest covered his chest where the "ARMY" logo would be). "No way," he scoffed. "I would never wear that. I hate the Army."

"Oh," I replied, "I am in the Army." He looked at me as if I had announced I had three legs and was born on Neptune. "You? In the Army?" He started to laugh, as if I were making a joke. But when I offered to show him my military ID card as proof he finally seemed to believe me.

Can you even fathom this repression? Is this really America? A student on one of our nation’s campuses has to be exposed to negative views about the military? Why, the horror.

This is the sort of thing which the conservative press – searching in every corner for reasons to feel aggrieved – now routinely churns out as proof of anti-conservative oppression. Stories about campus conservatives who are forced to hear opinions which diverge from their own are now portrayed as victims of the liberal hegemony which rules the nation’s academic institutions with an iron fist, mercilessly mowing down conservative students wherever they are found and consigning them to college gulags. And, like clockwork, the most predictable parrots have lamented the gross unfairness of what is "going on" at Harvard Law and have commended this proud woman for her courageous stand.

What I said about the contrived National Review controversy at Thomas Jefferson Law School applies even more strongly here, where the author is not even pretending to have had anything happen to her other than hearing other students' views with which she disagrees:

This campus "controversy," and similar ones being promoted by conservatives, illustrate a disturbing role-reversal driven by an increasingly strident mindset on the part of conservatives (students and professors alike) in academia. Legitimate complaints about free speech suppression at the hands of left-wing censors in academia have morphed into a petulant insistence that -- like their PC counterparts on the Left who preceded them -- they have the right not just to free expression of their opinion, but also the right to an environment that does not criticize, insult or offend them as a result of the opinions they express.

Campus conservatives now complain – loudly, shrilly and often – not just when they are prohibited from expressing their views, but also when their viewpoints are criticized or condemned, whether by other students, professors, or by academic administrators. In short, campus conservatives and the complaints they are manufacturing are now based upon the same noxious sense of entitlement to a criticism-free environment which the PC warriors on the left for so long demanded be accorded to them. . . . .

There should be no doubt that the Federalist Society law students at Thomas Jefferson had very hurt feelings when they learned that the Dean of their law school condemned the ideas of the speaker they had invited. But as conservatives persuasively preached for so long, one is not entitled -- especially in an academic setting -- to be shielded from ideas which may be "hurtful" or with which one disagrees.

And, notwithstanding (author Jason) Mattera's cries of censorship on behalf of these poor Federalist Society members, having others disagree with your opinions is not evidence that you are a free-speech victim needing protection.To the contrary, if campus conservatives are free to express their ideas and others are free to criticize them, even vigorously, that is exactly the state of affairs for which proponent of campus free speech should be striving. Equating disagreement with oppression is no more appealing coming from the Right than it was when it came from the Left.

Given that she says she intends to pursue a career in the military, one certainly hopes that Ms. Buzicky develops a thicker skin. Although being exposed to other people’s opinion passes these days as some grievous trauma among the effete, whiny conservative press which is always vigilantly searching for a reason to feel slighted, such an occurrence in the military – and even the non-military world beyond Harvard Law – is called "discussion and debate." and being exposed to such a thing is unlikely to generate much sympathy, let alone an entire magazine article decrying what has occurred.

Conservatives control the White House, the Senate and the U.S. House. They dominate cable news television and talk radio. They are free to express their views in all facets of the media and even academic institutions without discipline or penalty. Is there anything that can ween them off of this unseemly addiction many of them have developed to parading themselves around as perpetual victims who are treated unfairly by the world?

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