by Thomas Sowell
October 17, 2006

There are very few saints among people of any race, religion, national origin, or sexual orientation. None should be above criticism.

Increasingly, however, there are tighter and tighter restrictions on what you can say about more and more groups. San Francisco radio talk show host Pete Wilson discovered this recently when he criticized a city Supervisor and his female friend — but not lover — who had a baby together.

The man is gay and the woman is a lesbian, so they are not lovers in a committed relationship.

Raising a child is no piece of cake, even when the parents are married and committed to staying together. Raising a child where there is no stable, committed relationship may be cutting edge stuff but Pete Wilson’s point was that a child is not an experiment.

The same could be said of heterosexuals like the woman who recently had a baby in her sixties. That’s great for making a splash in the media but what is going to happen when the baby becomes a teenager and the mother’s energy level has declined with age, if she is still around at all?

The real issue, however, is neither heterosexual or homosexual, and it extends even beyond the important question of the best interests of the child.

The larger question for American society is, as Joan Rivers has often said: “Can we talk?”

Political bigwigs in San Francisco say “No.” They are demanding that Pete Wilson resign. In San Francisco, no one is supposed to criticize anything done by homosexuals.

Moreover, this attitude is not confined to San Francisco or to gays. On the other side of the country, Columbia University students stormed the stage when one of the Minuteman critics of our lax immigration laws was trying to speak.

At many other colleges and universities, he would not even have been allowed on campus in the first place. Many campuses have speech codes where it is called creating a “hostile environment” if you say things that make various racial, sexual, or other protected groups unhappy.

Young people educated at our most prestigious colleges and universities are learning the lesson that storm trooper tactics can silence those who are not in vogue on campus, and honest expressions of opinion about issues involving anything from affirmative action to women in the military can get you suspended if you refuse the humiliation and hypocrisy of being “re-educated.”

Meanwhile, liberals in Congress have long been advocating a return to the so-called “fairness” doctrine requiring “balance” in broadcasting. Talk radio is overwhelmingly conservative simply because liberal talk radio has failed repeatedly to attract comparable-sized audiences.

The listeners have spoken but the politicians want to overrule them. Some call it “hush Rush” legislation.

“Fairness” here, as in so many other contexts, means nothing more and nothing less than the exercise of arbitrary power by third parties, since everyone has a different definition of what “fairness” means.

Free speech is not a luxury but a necessity if we are to hear the various sides of issues before we decide what to do.

It is not a question of Pete Wilson’s rights or even of the rights of all the people who speak or write on public issues. Such people are not even ten percent of the population and probably not even one percent.

Their individual rights matter. But among the pressing problems of our time, their interests alone rank far down the list.

Free speech rights exist for the whole society, not for writers and speakers. When you say that we can hear only what a growing number of censors want us to hear, you are condemning us to grope in the dark when making all sorts of decisions — about ourselves, our families and the future of our society.

Whether Pete Wilson’s opinion was right or wrong is a very small issue compared to blinding us all for the sake of political correctness. Can we talk? Apparently, for some people, the answer is “No.”


— Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and one of the greatest academic minds of our time.