James Taranto: My Encounter With Liberal Opposition To Free Speech Solidified Me As A Conservative

If a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged, you might say that James Taranto became solidly conservative when his free speech was mugged by liberals.

Taranto is the author of the inimitable Best of the Web Today column at the online edition of the Wall Street Journal.  In a wide-ranging interview with NewsBusters at the RNC yesterday, Taranto—asked how he became a conservative—described his experience as a college student-newspaper editor.  He had written a column defending the free speech rights of a college journalist at another university who had been suspended for published a politically-incorrect cartoon regarding affirmative action.  Taranto soon found himself suspended as well. It was the realization, contrary to his previous assumptions, that liberals often do not support free speech that, in Taranto's words, "solidified me on the right." View the video after the jump.

For more on the infamous Rooster incident that led to Taranto's suspension and confirmed him as a conservative, read the Wikipedia entry.   Watch Taranto describe his eye-opening encounter with liberal opposition to free speech that made him a confirmed conservative.


NEWSBUSTERS: How and when did you come to your conservatism, and were you a convert in some way, as many of us have been?

JAMES TARANTO: Well, I guess I would say that as a teenager I was sort of libertarian: I wanted freedom for everything.  I was socially liberal, I thought, and economically conservative, and I don't know that I really had well thought-out foreign policy views. What kind of solidified me on the right, as opposed to a fence-straddling libertarian or a moderate or something, was when I realized that liberals are not actually in favor of freedom of speech. I had thought that, cause conservatives were against pornography and liberals were for it, I thought, OK, liberals are for free speech, conservatives are for free markets. I'm for both, therefore I can't really be either one.

Then I go to college. I'm an editor at a student newspaper. I publish an article defending free speech over this rooster cartoon that made fun of affirmative action. I get suspended, and really chewed out by the faculty adviser, for defending free speech. And then something clicked. I realized, the left is not for free speech--at least not consistently.  To be fair, the ACLU represented me in this lawsuit and there are some good free-speech liberals out there. But you know, you look at the big free-speech cases, particularly the ones involving political speech, and I'm thinking especially of Citizens United.  There are very few pro-Citizens United liberals.  I can name three: Floyd Abrams, the great First Amendment lawyer; Michael Kinsley and Eliot Spitzer.  I don't know who else there is.           

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