Saturday, December 31, 2016

Free Speech Among The Deplorables


Carl Paladino, a wealthy Buffalo businessman, likes to send racist emails. Several of these were published (NSFW) when he ran for Governor of New York in 2010. This month's stir was bigger. Paladino apparently wrote a private reply to a newspaper's year-end quiz, intending to amuse his friends with it, but then he mistakenly sent the reply to the newspaper instead. Here are Paladino's published New Year's wishes:

In response to these comments, many in Buffalo have demanded that Paladino be removed from the city's school board, to which he was re-elected in May. The board has now voted 6–2 to ask the state Education Commissioner to remove him.

Personally, I believe Carl Paladino lacks the baseline character required of an educator. But whether the state's regulations, and the political forces arrayed on all sides, will actually permit his removal is something Commissioner Elia will have to judge. Jim Heaney, a Buffalo journalist and apparently no friend of Paladino's, has argued that executive action isn't the best approach in the present case. Among other ideas, Heaney suggests calling a special election for Paladino's board seat. If that were feasible, it sounds to me like a good idea: voters gave Paladino his authority, and ideally voters should be the ones to take it away. And I do think Paladino would lose…in May, he was nearly unseated by a high school student.


Pamela Ramsey Taylor, director of a county nonprofit group in West Virginia, was removed by her board of directors in connection with a state investigation that began when Taylor posted a racist slur about Michelle Obama to her Facebook page. Mayor Beverly Whaling of Clay, West Virginia, who had commented approvingly on Taylor's post, quickly resigned her office as well.

What these people wrote is cruel and disgusting, and their apologies were insufficient. (Taylor's is here.) Yet was it fair for Whaling and Taylor to lose their jobs over this? Should the p.c. police be trawling Facebook for thought-crimes to punish people for IRL?

While I do object to p.c. thought-policing, that isn't a good description of what happened here. Mayor Whaling resigned under public pressure: those are the breaks. When you're an elected politician, you serve at the whims of the Mob, and your speech has a lot to do with it. And as I understand it, Taylor was removed in the first instance not for the content of what she posted, but rather because her post raised reasonable concerns in the Governor's office about the quality of service that Taylor's agency was providing to county residents under her leadership. And let's be real here: if you're a county-level services provider and the Governor of the state knows you by name, you done fucked up.


Milo Yiannopoulus, a controversial right-wing pundit, recently signed a lucrative publishing contract with Threshold Editions, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. This has led some people on the Left to contemplate a publisher boycott. The Chicago Review of Books tweeted this:

I'll be interested to hear what the American Library Association says about this. The ALA hosts an annual campaign called "Banned Books Week", and although the word "banned" usually overstates what the ALA is criticizing, the basic idea that animates Banned Books Week is excellent:
Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community; librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types, in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.
By (literally) banning all of Simon & Schuster's books from its pages, the Chicago Review of Books directly contradicts these aims.

I hope this decision is reversed; it isn't even consistent with the journal's stated mission:
We seek to explore the connections between literature, current events, and pop culture. Our contributors are as diverse as the books we cover, from established authors, journalists, and writing professors to students and freelance critics.
What happens when even our literary journals lose faith in the power of words? The Chicago Review ought to fight Yiannopoulos's book by doing what it does best: writing a review of it.

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