The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

Liberal hypocrisy on the free exchange of ideas

Last fall, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, subpoenaed researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who had co-written an article in Science magazine on climate change.

In the article, the scientists claimed they had come up with new, more accurate ways of measuring temperatures that showed the climate has continued to warm over the last 20 years, even though previous measurements had shown this not to be the case.

{mosads}Smith had heard from whistleblowers the changes were made in response to political considerations, so he sought all communications that went into the research.

The “scientific community,” of course, went nuts. The subpoena was a partisan witch hunt, said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), the committee’s ranking member. The subpoena could “threaten to inhibit the free exchange of ideas” and “have a chilling effect” on scientific research, said a letter from a group of scientific associations, led by the liberal Union of Concerned Scientists.

But the concern over the “chilling effect” on the “free exchange of ideas” seems to be somewhat situational, as Rep. Smith’s latest round of subpoenas has exposed.

A few months ago, members of Congress, major green groups and state attorneys general decided they’d had enough of free exchange of ideas with regard to global warming.

This was not about the right to disagree with government, the attorneys general claimed. Rather, it was about misleading the public on global warming and thus delaying efforts to combat it. And that constituted not free speech or a free exchange of ideas but fraud, punishable with criminal penalties.

They went after ExxonMobil because it allegedly knew for years the dangers of global warming but hid them from the public to increase profits. They went after groups, such as my former employer, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, because they refused to knuckle under to the government line.

The state attorneys general papered Washington with subpoenas – for donor records, internal communications and other deliberations of private groups with private contributors. But courts were not friendly to the AGs when groups such as CEI challenged the subpoenas in court, and attorneys general – led by the AG from the Virgin Islands – began to back off.

A stunt by 19 Democrat senators to take turns denouncing think tanks that challenge government orthodoxy on global warming also went nowhere.

And now Smith’s committee wants to know what went into these state attorneys general deciding to use their prosecutorial powers to chill all this free speech.

He has demanded the AGs involved turn over their records. He has subpoenaed Greenpeace USA and – two lefty green organizations that encouraged the witch hunt against Exxon Mobil, CEI and others – for communications they had with allies in government about how to harness government power to persecute their opponents in the debate.

This is indeed a story about hypocrisy. Free exchange of ideas is vital when NOAA is trying to change temperature readings to erase the 20-year pause in warming that has stymied political momentum for dramatic environmental action. But those who don’t share the view global warming is an imminent danger that demands immediate and drastic government action must be harassed and persecuted for the good of the country.

But what’s more important here is the tendency of the left to use the levers of government power against its political adversaries. It’s not just senators taking turns denouncing private organizations on the Senate floor because they disagree on environmental policy. It’s not just far-left environmental groups coordinating with state prosecutors to promote criminal legal action against businesses and organizations guilty of nothing more than disagreeing on an issue.

It is members of the Senate, such as Chuck Schumer of New York and Al Franken of Minnesota, urging the IRS to harass conservative and Tea Party groups. It’s Operation Choke Point, in which government puts pressure on banks to stop doing business with industries it dislikes, such as consumer loans, guns and ammunition. It’s President Obama saying you can build a coal plant in America, but you’ll go bankrupt doing it.

It is people in power using that power to enforce laws that have not been passed by the peoples’ representatives for the purpose of prosecuting political adversaries. It is Schumer pushing for cooking the books on climate change, criminally prosecuting global warming policy adversaries and siccing the IRS on often-tiny Tea Party groups.

If we allow this, we are a government of men – powerful men who use government to force their wills on us. We are then no longer a government of laws, as the Founders intended.

McNicoll is a conservative columnist and freelance writer based in Reston, Va. He has worked as a newspaper writer, editor and columnist, as a senior writer for The Heritage Foundation and as director of communications for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. 

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

Tags Al Franken Chuck Schumer

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

More Energy & Environment at The Hill News

See All
See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video