“Largely what we're seeing, especially on college campuses, is that if my view is in the majority and I don't agree with your view, then I have the right to shout you down, disrupt your events, or otherwise suppress your ability to get your voice heard,” he said.
Coming from Pai, a Republican appointee to the FCC, the criticism is not entirely shocking. Last year, he publicly opposed net neutrality regulations, believing they could set the government on a slippery slope toward controlling online content. When the FCC went ahead with new regulations, he warned that “it is conceivable to me to see the government saying, ‘We think the Drudge Report is having a disproportionate effect on our political discourse. … We want to start tamping down on websites like that.’”
Still, those remarks were narrowly focused on formal rules set by government agencies. What Pai decried in the Washington Examiner interview is what he sees as a broader societal trend. And his dim view of widespread political correctness echoes a refrain sung over and over during the presidential race by leading Republican candidates like Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
“I think it's dangerous, frankly, that we don't see more often people espousing the First Amendment view that we should have a robust marketplace of ideas where everybody should be willing and able to participate,” he said.
Pai’s critique of college campuses should delight conservatives who were outraged last fall by several high-profile incidents in which demonstrators sought to intimidate or marginalize people who didn’t support their causes. In November, a University of Missouri professor was filmed calling for “some muscle” to forcibly remove a student journalist from a public area because he wasn’t part of a group protesting the school’s treatment of minorities.
Soon after, Smith College in Northampton, Mass., allowed the student organizers of a sit-in protest against racial discrimination to keep out any media members who did not pledge to “participate and articulate their solidarity with black students and students of color.”
In such instances, there seemed to be no room for thoughtful disagreement or respectful pushback.
It’s easy to discount Trump when he says “political correctness is just absolutely killing us as a country — you can't say anything.” He made that specific pronouncement (he’s made may similar ones) while defending his crass statement that Fox News host Megyn Kelly had “blood coming out of her wherever” during a Republican debate in August.
Trump apparently thinks he should be able to attribute tough questions to a journalist’s menstrual cycle without facing recrimination. That’s a tough argument to take seriously.
But Pai isn’t making that argument. And he’s a far less polarizing messenger. He’s a guy whose job is to tell people what they’re not allowed to say — and even he thinks the country is getting too sensitive.
Pai’s case is that our democracy suffers when political correctness unjustly discourages people from speaking their minds. It’s a tempered version of what we’ve heard on the campaign trail, and it’s worth thinking about.