There is no message more prominent in conservative discourse than the existential threat of “cancel culture,” an alleged assault on free-speech rights by cultural commissars determined to suppress unpleasant but constitutionally protected utterances. The theme of the highly Trumpy CPAC conference in Orlando in February was “America Uncanceled.” And among the celebrants of totally untrammeled free speech (“FREEDOM!” he screamed at one point in emulation of Mel Gibson’s William Wallace) was Texas senator Ted Cruz. “Free speech [means] you can say whatever you want, no matter how dumb it is,” he told CPAC in remarks entitled “The Bill of Rights, Liberty and Cancel Culture.”
Apparently this vast zone of untrammeled freedom of expression does not extend to negative comments made about Ted Cruz by former House Speaker John Boehner in his recently released book (On the House: a Washington Memoir), as the Guardian notes:
Republican senator Ted Cruz has responded to fiery criticism from John Boehner with a tactic beloved of authoritarian regimes: threatening to burn his book. In an email to supporters, the Texas politician said he also might machine-gun or chainsaw the memoir, depending on how much his supporters paid for the privilege to watch.
True, Boehner has in the past referred to Cruz as “Lucifer in the flesh,” and in the book called him a “reckless asshole who thinks he is smarter than everyone else.” The Ohioan also invited the junior senator from Texas to enjoy carnal knowledge with himself. But hey, it’s a free country, right? Maybe not, according to Cruz’s email:
Calling the speaker-turned-lobbyist a “Swamp Monster” and accusing him of “an unhinged smear campaign”, the email told supporters Cruz had “put this trash right where it belonged, in my fireplace”.
“But I didn’t finish it off just yet,” it added. Instead, the Texas senator announced a “72-hour drive to raise $250,000”, in which donors would “get to VOTE on whether we machine gun the book, take a chainsaw to it or burn the book to light cigars!”
And, no, Cruz pretty clearly wasn’t joking since he also promised to livestream the destruction of On the House. We’re talking some serious 1930s stuff here.
Now if Cruz really believes Boehner has libeled him, he can always go to court, though winning a defamation case when you are a public figure is very tough, and worse yet for the Texan, truth is an absolute defense. Just torching or chain-sawing offensive comments is, one would think, the essence of “cancel culture.” We should remember that next time Cruz or his allies defend racist or sexist speech as near the very heart of liberty.