Prescience is an odd quality to attribute to a book-length treatment of recent history. Nonetheless, The Intimidation Game by Kimberly Strassel adheres closely to Antonio’s observation in Shakespeare’s The Tempest that “What’s past is prologue.”
In an era when 140 characters and memes featuring cats that make various funny faces can dominate media consumption of the typical American, Strassel has done us all a service. The award-winning columnist and member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board draws a vivid portrait of how, as the subtitle implies, “the left is silencing free speech.”
In Strassel’s telling, intimidation is a dominant, if unrecognized, political strategy. Why try to win at the ballot box or in the realm of ideas if you can shut down dissenting ideas with the force of government power? One step further, if the ideas won’t go away, then subject the communication of those ideas to harsh penalties, intrusive and overwhelming oversight, and costly legal actions.
Strassel shows how intimidation is an extension of politics and found in quarters populated by Republicans and Democrats alike. However, there is no denying that the systematic use of regulatory and criminal prosecution of political opponents is done primarily by Democrats. From party leaders in Congress and the executive branch, through agency heads right on down to local officials, intimidation and the use of government regulatory and police powers is now the path toward partisan advancement.
The captured mindset at myriad governmental organizations like the FCC, FEC, OSHA, FDA, FBI, IRS, and SEC is no longer limited to the standard public choice analysis which suggests agencies will seek more power, authority, prestige, and a larger budget. Driven by a sense of righteousness and the improbability of ever suffering negative consequences, the new partisans of the left appear unstoppable. When these abuses are uncovered, instead of scandal or disgrace, exposure and even false testimony under oath has produced quiet departure from government service with a tidy pension.
As only a tightly reported story can do, the book marries the painstakingly collected details of a multi-year investigation with the human drama that is the tragedy of an individual, or small group of people, targeted and persecuted by distant, anonymous, and vengeful government officials who either refuse to play by the rules or re-write the rulebook as they go.
From wealthy individuals targeted for legal, publicly disclosed political activity to people getting involved with political ideas for the very first time and operating civic clubs off of their kitchen tables, the bare-knuckled strategies of political intimidation cast a wide net.
Fortunately, the first step toward beating back the darker elements at work in our body politic is to understand them. Kim Strassel shines the light of understanding with clear writing and a compelling, page-turning narrative that spans a wide range of underlying federal and state laws, agencies and, sadly, victims. One would do well to invest the time to read the book.
While the timeframe at the core of the book is the past decade, we would do well to look at the antics on the floor of the U.S. Senate this week. High ranking public officials are promoting concurrent resolutions to disapprove of “certain companies, trade associations, foundations and organizations.” To further this cause, a coordinated schedule of attacks against private organizations like CEI and dozens of other policy organizations is being carried out by the Senators. In Shakespeare’s telling of The Tempest, Antonio declares that the events of the past have led up to his present criminal conspiracy. Sadly, we see the same today and The Intimidation Game tells the story vividly.