Progressives—a good many of them—will readily answer the call for the defense of art and artistic freedom. This, for them, is the easy call, one they have made time and again, in the face of demands of censorship. Limits on political speech are another matter and on these, liberals—Beinart included—display markedly less commitment.[snip]
A concise rebuttal by Micky Kaus exposes the multiple problems with Beinart's argument. The question remains, however, why progressives will rise up in defense of opera or James Joyce or controversial grant-making by the National Endowment of the Arts but then rally behind pervasive limits on political speech. Why is a cancelled performance of Mozart in Berlin suddenly "the last straw?"
Progressives can’t quite shake off a preference for elegant over inelegant speech, the beautiful over the vulgar. Idomeneo causes shudders of delight, whereas there is no frisson on the viewing of a 30-second commercial. It may be unkind or too much to say of this view that it is elitist. Yet it is obvious that there is, in the difference of responses, a perceived difference of quality of speech.
A more profound difference is that of the relationship of politics to the speech at issue. Art, understood as an autonomous sphere of speech, is seen as requiring protection from politics. Expressly political speech is politics and instantly becomes fair game for manipulation as political objectives and biases dictate. Progressives are all too tolerant of speech restrictions where there is a choice of speech to be restricted and reliable political criteria for making that choice.