Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The High Price of Freedom

Ruth Marcus, a columnist at The Washington Post has written a column defending the retention of John Yoo at that liberal bastion of political correctness: University of California at Berkeley.

Christopher Edley, the Dean of Boalt Hall, has commented on the barrage of emails demanding Yoo's removal and Marcus reports:

Edley, a veteran of the Clinton and Carter White Houses, responded last week with a memo of his own, concluding that Yoo "offered bad ideas and even worse advice during his government service." Still, he found, this failing does not "warrant dismissal or even a potentially chilling inquiry."

Absent "very substantial evidence" of "clear professional misconduct" or criminal violations, Edley said, "no university worthy of distinction should even contemplate dismissing a faculty member."

Marcus adds:

Yet the message sent to students by dumping Yoo would be even worse: that some opinions are too dangerous to express. Lawyers are used to staking a foothold on slippery slopes, but this one, with academic freedom at issue, is too treacherous to risk.

Marcus makes a very important point, one that is often lost in our zeal to minimize the pain inflicted by those who speak without thinking, or caring. Political correctness has become a method for protecting presumed victims from presumed antagonists. Real life must somehow be sanitized and no one should ever be insulted or be made to feel bad for any reason. Only in the US could it be so. I don't think our European cousins are as myopic. I could be wrong of course, they do pass some interesting laws over there.

I read Yoo's memo and blanched. I am not a lawyer but, I don't like what he found to be appropriate behaviour. All the same, if we make him an example because we don't care for what he wrote, or the advice he gave the White House then where does it stop? If his actions rise to the level of being actionable under the law (including international law) then the law must deal with him. But the fact that his views are likely wrong and may have provided the cover for abuses, don't meet the test for removal from his position.

See Marcus' last line in her essay. So very true.

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