Conservative Writer David French: We Should Be More Tolerant of Speech That Offends Us

Do you believe the First Amendment protects speech that offends you?

If you can say yes, then you truly believe in free speech. But as National Review’s David French pointed out in a recent piece, too many people will “zealously defend” the speech they like and bend over backward finding reasons to shut down speech from their “ideological enemies.”

French joined Wednesday’s “The Glenn Beck Radio Program” to talk about his piece on the NFL protests and why we need to listen to one another – even when we don’t like what we hear.

He gave a theoretical example to show the other “side”: What if President Barack Obama had threatened former football pro Tim Tebow’s religious expression and called for the quarterback to be fired?

“You can’t tell me that the entire conservative world wouldn’t absolutely meltdown at that,” French said. “We need to stop being so outraged about speech we disagree with.”

In the article headlined “I Understand Why They Knelt,” French asked some important questions:

*Who is a bigger threat, a few football players or the most powerful man in the world?

*How many leftists saying kneeling during the anthem is “free speech” think a Christian baker’s religious freedom doesn’t matter?

*How many conservatives who decried Google for firing an engineer with the “wrong” opinions think it’s OK for the president to threaten the free speech of private citizens?

This article provided courtesy of TheBlaze.

STU: So David French wrote an article. He's a senior writer at the National Review. And when I saw the headline, I had to find out how he got there. The headline was I Understand Why They Knelt. It's an amazing read. And he joins us now to talk about that. And also, Judge Moore's win last night.

GLENN: Okay. So, David, welcome to the program. Let's start first with Judge Moore, if you have any thoughts on that at all. What does that tell you? What happened last night?

DAVID: You know, it tells me that the populist wave that swept Trump in and the populist wave that is really dominant in the South is still dominant. I mean, we -- a lot of people forget that Trump really capitulated -- really began to lock down the nomination and Super Tuesday, which is a Southern-dominated primary. And if there's one thing -- if you follow the politics of the South, if you studied the politics of the South, populism has sold here for generations.

GLENN: Yeah.

DAVID: So it doesn't surprise me at all.

GLENN: Populism in the South -- this is why this is so controversial. And please, if you're listening in the South, instead of getting mad, let's have a discussion and talk about actual history. But populism in the South, really with reconstruction and even the Civil War, populists created this illusion that the Civil War was not about slavery, it was about state's rights. Which is so clearly debunked, if you just read the Confederate constitution. I mean, it's -- you don't have to have any conversation on it at all.

But populism has swept the South up into this glory days of, this was about something different than slavery. And it is -- it continues through today.

So I'm reading a few people, David, that say that Judge Moore is actually a great constitutionalist and a great conservative.

DAVID: He's not a great constitutionalist. I mean, this is a guy who -- you know, he's a populist folk hero is what he is, because of the stand he took because of the Ten Commandments. He is a person who capitulated to fame by defying court orders, that were lawful court orders that he disagreed with. And so he decided to defy them. Now, look, that's all well and go when you love his cause and you hate the order that he's defying -- you know, I'm somebody that's been arguing on behalf of the constitutional rights of students and faculty members and college campuses, and we pretty much bank on colleges not defying those court orders. I mean, if we have a world where you just defy the court orders you don't like, it's a lawless world.

But it made him a folk hero, for a lot of folks, especially for the folks who dominate a primary electorate in the state of Alabama.

And so it's nothing about this, is surprising. This is exactly what you would expect.

And I think the populist sort of wave has not abated at all down here. And I live in Tennessee. I live just about 40 miles north of Alabama. And you can feel it. The populist wave has not abated at all. They still support Donald Trump, but to the extent that they're disappointed with Donald Trump, it's mainly, we need departs from the populism of the campaign.

GLENN: Why is this dangerous? To the average person, David, they don't understand why the wrapping yourself in the flag and populism is a bad thing.

DAVID: Well, you know, often it's not based so much on ideas. It's based on an attitude. It's based on an anger, and it's based on a rage. And it's based frankly on a misunderstanding that this is the only way to win. This is the only way to defeat the left.

And so what you have are politicians who are capitalizing on emotion, they're capitalizing on feeling. And they're not advocating particular ideas. And what begins to happen when that happens is you start to define yourself by your opposition to the other side, as opposed to what you're for. And, I mean, you see this all the time. You see people who define whether or not something is good by the number -- you know, the gallons of liberal tears being shed. And it becomes inherently divisive. It becomes devoid of ideas. And the odd thing is, as populism increases, you'll actually have greater rage, even with less ideological separation.

GLENN: Yes. Yes.

DAVID: I mean, think of the 2016 election. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were two of the least ideological candidates in modern times. Hillary sat on every side of every issue, except abortion. Trump had been on every side of every issue, including abortion. And yet, it was the most vicious race of our adult lifetimes. That's what happens.

GLENN: So I was talking to Brad Meltzer who is a great historian and writer, and we had a conversation yesterday. And I said, "We have abandoned the Judeo-Christian heroes. We have abandoned Moses, who was not a warrior. And we've abandoned Jesus, who was not a warrior. And what -- I can't say this is true for the entire West because, you know, Europe still has enough of the fascist/communist love in them, that they like a strong man. But it's not the same as it is in the Middle East. And then when you went to Europe, it lessened. And we had Jesus and Moses. And when he came over here to America, we really believed for a long time, blessed is the peacemaker. Look for the humble person. Look for the quiet person. And, you know, walk softly."

We've abandoned all of that now. Haven't we lost the essence of who we are, if we can't get back to a point to say, "You know, the reasonable person, the quiet person, the peacemaker is the hero, not the one that punches people in the face?"

DAVID: Look, I think we're really on the knife's edge here, in the sense that if we don't turn back from this notion that character no longer matters in a president, for example, or turn back from the notion that the ends justify the means. Or to use a popular phrase from the left, by any means necessary.

GLENN: Uh-huh.

DAVID: You know, the polarization we experience now is only the beginning. And one of the more discouraging things that I've seen -- again, you know, I live in rural Tennessee in the South -- it's a very evangelical area. And the number of my fellow evangelicals who profess to believe that character matters in a politician has plummeted, plummeted. They don't even seek it anymore. They don't seek character. And character is destiny, in so many ways, as my colleague Jonah Goldberg is fond of saying.

And when you have low character, you're going to -- the results that are achieved, the long-term cultural damage, all of those things are going -- it's going to come back to bite you, to the extent to which you wrap yourself around people of low character. And that is a problem we're confronting in this country. And, look, it's on both sides. As the 2016 election demonstrates.

So I think you're right. I mean, we need to embrace people of high character.

GLENN: So you wrote an article for National Review. I understand why they knelt. And I can't believe your day was pleasant after posting this.

But you -- you brought out something really, really good. You said, "Look, you know, everybody on the NFL, that is cheering for free speech, they're all too happy to stick the government on a tiny few bakers or florists who don't want to use their artistic talents to celebrate events they find offensive. How many progressives who celebrated First Amendment on Sunday sympathize with the college students who chant, "Speech is violence," and try to seek to block conservatives from college campuses. But then you went on to say: But as a conservative, I see many conservatives decry Google's termination of a young dissenting software engineer working overtime yesterday to argue that Trump is somehow in the right.

Yet Google is a private corporation, and Trump is the most powerful government official in the land. The First Amendment applies to Trump -- the First Amendment applies to Trump, not Google. And his demands for reprisals are ultimately far more ominous.

DAVID: Right.

GLENN: Would you care to explain yourself Mr. French?

DAVID: Well, let's back up a minute.

I mean, what we're talking about is a protest that was petering out. I mean, Colin Kapernick was out of the league. There are a few people here or there that are kneeling. Then Donald Trump went and he didn't say, "I disagree with it." He said, "They should be fired." He called them names. He said they should be fired. Then in tweets, he didn't just go after, for example, these football players. He went after Steph Curry because of Steph Curry's reluctance to go to the White House. And then he even said, if people don't do what I say, there should be economic boycotts and reprisals against the NFL.

Now, this is the most powerful man in the world. And I want you to put on your thinking cap for the audience and say, "What happened if Barack Obama said, if Tim Tebow injects religion into the football field anymore and he kneels after a touch down anymore, he should be fired, that expletive. He should be fired, and then we should boycott the NFL." You can't tell me that the entire conservative world would absolutely melt down on that. And so what happened, you had the most powerful man in the world trying to dictate to these individuals how they should express themselves.

And, look, what happened last Sunday wasn't them -- it wasn't the Colin Kaepernick/Black Lives Matter protest. That wasn't what happened on Saturday. What happened on Saturday was people saying to the president, you don't dictate how we speak.

So I absolutely understand that impulse, just as I would understand it if a whole bunch of players knelt with Tim Tebow to protest if Barack Obama did something like this.

And it's always very helpful to put on our thinking caps and say, what if the other side had done something similar towards somebody we perhaps like? Then it begins to clarify these issues.

My position though is, we need to stop being so outraged about speech we disagree with.

Our position should be rebut to bad speech with better speech. I didn't like Colin Kaepernick's protests. And I wrote that. And I tried to persuade people that his protest was not right.

STU: They will say though that you can't persuade these people, and somebody's got to strike back. That's what I hear all the time.

DAVID: Well, I know. I hear that all the time too, Glenn. The fight fire with fire. Got to punch them back. Let's see how well that works, okay? So we had, what? Ten, 12 NFL players the Sunday before kneeling.

So he punched back really hard. And what did we have? 200-plus kneeling. You know, this fight fire with fire, often what it ends up doing is it makes you feel good because you're really, really mad, but it doesn't accomplish what you want.

What it actually accomplishes is more division. What it actually accomplishes is more rage. And what it actually accomplished was mainstreaming kneeling for the national anthem and for the flag. That's what he actually accomplished.

And I'm saying, let's turn down the temperature. And let's respect free speech. And let's not freak out when somebody disagrees with us. Let's have a consistent view that says the United States of America is a place where people have the right to be wrong, and I'm going to try to persuade them when they're wrong.

But even if they stay wrong, I'm going to tolerate that. And I'm going to be okay with the fact that there are going to be people who are wrong in this society. We'll never create a utopia because we've got to learn how to live with each other when we don't agree with each other. And it's not by saying, I want to fire people who disagree with me, and I want to fire people who offend me. That's the wrong way to do it.

GLENN: David, thank you for making members of the audience uncomfortable today with your speech. Thank you very much.

STU: So one of the things I really like about David French and his writing is, there are times I will go into an article, not know what to expect, and it will challenge what I'm thinking. And I don't know, I like that. I think that's what we're supposed to --

GLENN: It's healthy. It's really healthy.

STU: Yeah. He's the senior writer at National Review. He wrote the book Rise of ISIS: A Threat We Can't Ignore. He's an Iraq veteran. And the article is, I understand why they knelt. We'll tweet it from @GlennBeck and @worldofStu.

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Watch the video clip below or find the full episode of "The Glenn Beck Podcast" here:


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