Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Has American Liberalism Abandoned Free Speech? Interview With Thomas Frank

Matt Taibbi

The celebrated author writes an article in the Guardian opposing censorship, and is stunned by the negative response from political kindred spirits.

Writer Thomas Frank published a piece in The Guardian last week called, “Liberals want to blame rightwing ‘misinformation’ for our problems. Get real.” Its basic argument was that rather than look inward for reasons the Democratic Party message isn’t succeeding, and why political extremism is on the rise, Democrats have instead opted for a strategy of “shushing the world.”

Frank addressed the “clampdown mania” of the Internet era, expressing puzzlement over a change in how Democrats look at the speech issue now, versus how traditional liberals almost unanimously viewed the issue in the not-so-distant-past.

“Criticism, analysis, mockery, and protest: these were our weapons,” he wrote. “Censorship and blacklisting were, with important exceptions, the weapons of the puritanical right.”

To say the piece didn’t go over as he expected is an understatement. Although some liked it, he was stunned by the reaction from people he once considered political allies. “People were like, ‘Fuck you, Frank!’” he says, half-laughing.

Not long ago, Frank might have been American liberalism’s favorite writer. As detailed last summer’s review of The People, No!, he became a pop-culture sensation with his 2004 book, What’s the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America. That book came out at a time when American liberalism was first beginning to grapple with a new phenomenon: a loss of status as the typical political theology of an ordinary working-class person.

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