Book Review: The Intimidation Game

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Joseph Stalin once said: “Ideas are more powerful than guns. We would not let our enemies have guns; why should we let them have ideas?”

I don’t have much interest in topical political books churned out to satisfy an immediate curiosity about this issue or that, but a dear friend whom I greatly admire recently gave me a copy of Kimberly Strassel’s The Intimidation Game: How the Left Is Silencing Free Speech, and since I am also a great admirer of Ms. Strassel, I dove in.

In case you are unfamiliar with her work, Kimberly Strassel is a journalist and editorial board member for the Wall Street Journal, where she writes a weekly column called “Potomac Watch.” She also appears regularly on Fox News.

Right-wing pundits, both on television and in print, have been railing against the attempts to stifle free speech, condemning various radical groups’ use of violence (think Antifa, Black Lives Matter, B[oycott]D[ivest]S[anction], a confusing plethora of other far left extremists) whether on college campuses, or on the streets of Washington, DC or Portland or wherever. And like many of President Trump’s tweets, those mindless and violent protests tend to suck up all the attention. As Ms. Strassel eloquently shows in The Intimidation Game, those slack-jawed protesters are just a meaningless nuisance; the real threat is much quieter, much more insidious, much more duplicitous, and far more powerful.

How powerful? How do you feel about Joseph Stalin?

Your right to freedom of speech, as expressed in the First Amendment, doesn’t just mean that you have the individual right to stand on a box and harangue passersby with your views, or write an opinion piece in your local paper. It doesn’t just protect the rights of neo-Nazi wingnuts to strut around espousing hateful and moronic racist beliefs, or the rights of equally hateful Antifa or BDS or BLM types to march with equally hateful racist anti-Semitic or anti-police posters provided by wealthy backers, as long as both sides refrain from violence (and a good rule of thumb to remember is that the moment anyone or any group has to wear masks and resort to violence, it means they have nothing intelligent to say). Your First Amendment right to freedom of speech, as laid out in multiple Supreme Court decisions (Citizens United, NAACP vs Alabama, Bates vs Little Rock, McIntyre vs Ohio Elections Commission, as well as lower court rulings such as Mobley vs Harmon) also protects and guarantees your right to donate money to a cause or candidate or party whose views you agree with, and to be able to do so without fear of retaliation from anyone. Furthermore, as multiple lower and Supreme Court decisions have spelled out, it also protects your right to band together with your neighbors and other like-minded individuals to create a group to try and influence government as you see fit.

And that last is where Kimberley Strassel’s book begins.

Lois Lerner (late of the IRS) was just the arrogant and ugly tip of the iceberg. As anyone knows who watched any of the news at that time (2013-2014) she and others in the putatively non-political and unbiased IRS effectively shut down numerous conservative non-profit groups by denying or delaying applications with tactics like stonewalling, holding in mothballs, demanding endless redundant iterations of forms and questionnaires and itemized lists of everything you can imagine, plus a bunch of stuff you would never dream of.

The IRS and the merry Ms. Lerner had this power because, by law, the moment you form a group and begin to raise money or spend money, you have to account for those sums to the IRS and pay taxes, whether all you are doing is having posters made up for a rally, or buying food for the homeless in your small town, or whatever, and none of the groups that began to spontaneously spring up across the country had that kind of money.

If your group “operates primarily to further the common good and general welfare of the people of the community” (the IRS’s words) you fall into the non-profit, tax-exempt 501(c)(4) category. Simple, right?

Let’s say your state’s public utility company starts a fire that burns down much of the northern part of your state. Let’s say your state legislature decides to bail out the utility company by allowing them to raise their rates, already the highest in the nation, making taxpayers foot the bill for the utility company’s negligence. You form a group dedicated to the belief that it is for the common good not to have your rates raised even higher. The IRS can’t prove fighting taxes or rate hikes isn’t for the common good, so your tax-exempt status should be a shoo-in, right? But with the ever charming and delightful Ms. Lerner at the helm, your application for tax-exemption can be buried indefinitely.

How indefinitely?

Just so you understand how your right to freedom of speech is being denied and your voice silenced, some of the conservative groups that applied for tax-exempt status back in 2009 are still waiting for their paperwork to be processed.

And that’s just the beginning. What Kimberley Strassel does is lay out, clearly and simply, with her customary fine writing, the step-by-step process, connecting the dots along the way, showing just how far up the progressive political food chain that corruption goes (because many of those folks are still in power and still devoted to making sure you keep your mouth shut).

Is this a book by and for conservatives? Oh no. Let’s assume you are a far-left progressive socialist who dreams of an America where the government handles all the money and doles it out as the various governmental bureaucracies see fit. You better read Kimberley Strassel’s book, because the dirty tactics that were and are being used against the right might be turned against you someday. The same bureaucracies that were weaponized against conservatives under the Obama administration could equally be weaponized by the current administration. And that is probably the worst condemnation of the progressive left that can possibly be made: a complete absence of forethought. Consider the current Supreme Court hearings that are causing such anguish on the left. Harry Reid and the Democrats were more interested in getting what they wanted in the short term, rather than thinking about what was best for the country in the long term, and they changed the rules for Senate approval of a nominee from a required sixty votes to the current fifty-one. Now they are howling because Republicans are using the rules Harry Reid forced through.

Politicizing and weaponizing the government is an evil right out of Stalin’s playbook, no matter who does it. Just read The Intimidation Game.

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