The Fish Rots From the Head Down

“There is a lot of disinformation about health insurance reform out there, spanning from control of personal finances to end of life care. These rumors often travel just below the surface via chain emails or through casual conversation. Since we can’t keep track of all of them here at the White House, we’re asking for your help. If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to [email protected].”

This statement is actually from the White House web site. I did not make it up. What exactly is “fishy”? And what exactly is the White House going to do with the “help” of those who report on the emails and conversations of those who disagree with them? If this doesn’t send a chill down your spine, then either you don’t care about freedom of speech, the most precious right an individual possesses in a free society–or you have no remote clue of the difference between living in a society with such freedom, or without it.

‘In a nutshell, the White House is asking Americans to report on their neighbors, family, and friends who disagree with the President’s policy choices on health care,’ said Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law & Justice. ‘The White House is also implying that you should think twice before sending an email disagreeing with the President, since it might end up being forwarded to them. The White House email address says it all — let’s ‘flag’ those who disagree with us. This new White House reporting program strikes at the heart of the First Amendment and has no place in this important debate about health care.’

At root, with this current President (and so many of his supporters), the issue appears to be one of unwillingness to tolerate dissent. As I wrote in a previous Daily Dose of Reason last fall, “There are many ways someone can show they will not tolerate dissension. One is to cry. Another is to shout. Another is to calmly and cooly intimidate by getting personal. Another is to change the subject. Still another is to advocate shutting down freedom of speech in some context. There are many contexts, degrees and methods for displaying intolerance of dissent. They all spring from the same source: Emotional insecurity. The emotional insecurity, in turn, arises from a sense that one is probably wrong, and cannot accept it; or that one feels right, but cannot say why.”

This is the White House web site we’re talking about here. It’s not a private organization. It’s a government context–it is, quite literally, the government of the United States. The official web site of our government is asking citizens to report on fellow citizens who disagree with the official statements of our government. Are you going to take this lying down? At a minimum, write your representatives and express outrage over the use of the White House web site for purposes of inhibiting freedom of speech on the Internet–while you’re still free to do so.

(Go here to obtain information on contacting your representatives in Congress: