column

Doug Emhoff’s role in the woke war on free speech

A slanderous Holocaust analogy from Kamala Harris’s husband is part of the way the left uses its DEI catechism to silence dissent against the new political orthodoxies.

Second gentleman Doug Emhoff. Credit: The White House.
Second gentleman Doug Emhoff. Credit: The White House.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

Second gentleman Doug Emhoff had never shown any interest in his Jewish identity until his wife, Kamala Harris, was elected vice president of the United States. But though it would be an exaggeration to treat him as the Biden administration’s point person on anything, he has, almost by default, become one of its leading spokespersons on Jewish issues.

It was understandable that he emerged from Harris’s recent trip to Eastern Europe with some Jewish anecdotes along with his comments seeking to bolster the administration’s stand on the war in Ukraine. Speaking to Symone Sanders, a former staffer for Harris and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), on her MSNBC program, Emhoff recounted meeting a Holocaust survivor who had been forced to flee Ukraine because of the Russian invasion. Emhoff decided to use that women’s plight to denounce all sorts of hatred.

Emhoff is hardly alone when it comes to attempts to universalize the Holocaust. Russian aggression is terrible but as bad as it is, it’s in no way analogous to the Nazi campaign to exterminate the Jewish people.

Yet Emhoff didn’t stop there. Warming to his topic, he went on to claim that the hate that slaughtered Jews is somehow connected to just the Russian invasion but also to political debates in the United States.

“Hate is interconnected,” said Emhoff. “You see it in the discourse in the country right now. You see it in the divide that we have. Just going to school meetings, you see that hate that is out there.”

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That was an obvious reference to the heated arguments that have been going on in school-board meetings around the country in the last couple of years as angry parents have been calling those responsible for local education to account for the way toxic ideas like critical race theory and gender ideology have been seeping into classrooms and curricula.

It was bad enough that Attorney General Merrick Garland responded to school-board critics by treating them as if they were domestic terrorists. Now Emhoff is piling on by claiming that having the temerity to talk back to woke bureaucrats is linked to the invasion of Ukraine and the Holocaust.

For any prominent person—let alone the vice president’s spouse—to say something that egregious would itself be worthy of outrage, though predictably, the corporate liberal media that serves as the Biden administration’s faithful cheerleaders had nothing to say about it. But what’s truly troubling about Emhoff’s entry into the false Holocaust analogy competition is that like Garland’s unconscionable letter about those protesting the miseducation of children, it demonstrates just how allergic left-wing Democrats like the second couple are to free speech when it comes to pushing back against such woke doctrines.

Though he has done much that is worthy of criticism, there is nothing that President Joe Biden has done while in office that has as much long-term potential for doing damage to American society and government as his embrace of the woke DEI—diversity, equity and inclusion—catechism. DEI, which stems from critical race theory ideology, is antithetical to the principle of equality and the vision of a color-blind society that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of when he memorably called for America to become a country where his children would “be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Biden’s mandate that every federal department, agency and office devise and then implement its own equity plan ensures a future of quotas and heightened racial division.

It is wrong to treat parents who question the DEI mantra and the toxic ideas associated with it as terrorists or, in Emhoff’s telling, as hatemongers who must be opposed the same as Nazis and Russian invaders. The spread of such thinking isn’t limited to school-board meetings. It’s also clearly on display in law schools where future woke Department of Justice inquisitors are being trained.

Earlier this month, Judge Kyle Duncan of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit was invited to speak at Stanford University Law School by its chapter of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group. But Duncan, a prominent legal thinker and political conservative who was appointed to his post by former President Donald Trump, wasn’t able to deliver his remarks. After being subjected to disgusting insults and catcalling on his way into the venue (including one in which one protester reportedly screamed that he hoped his daughters would be raped), leftist students in attendance shouted him down.

Duncan is far from the first conservative to find himself silenced by a “heckler’s veto” on a university campus. But for a federal appellate judge to be treated in this manner at the institution that is widely considered to be the second highest-ranked law school in the country is something of a watershed moment in not merely the decline of civility but the collapse of free speech in academia. If people training to be lawyers at an elite institution like Stanford no longer think that they’re obligated to listen to points of view with which they might disagree, that constitutes a warning that the legal profession is filled with those who don’t believe in the principles on which a democratic culture depends.

Yet what made this incident particularly appalling is that university officials in attendance did nothing to restore order. Even worse, one who was there actually got up and spoke in favor of those seeking to silence the judge. Rather than, as a reasonable observer might have expected, telling the students to pipe down and/or threatening them with punishments if they did not, Tirien Steinbach, the law school’s associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion, took the podium and delivered prepared remarks denouncing the judge’s rulings on various issues, which she claimed brought “harm” to the Stanford campus.

When it proved impossible to deliver his remarks, Judge Duncan had to be escorted to safety by federal marshals. Later, the school’s president apologized for what happened, but there was no punishment for Steinbach, who deserves to be fired, or any of the many students who clearly violated the school’s free-speech policies.

If there are no consequences for those responsible for this debacle, leftist mobs will be further emboldened throughout the country. Steinbach’s actions are important because they do more than symbolize the harm that the now universal practice of hiring a legion of DEI administrators in all sorts of institutions. Her conduct is in keeping with the whole idea of having officials who act as woke commissars racializing discourse, as well as determining hiring practices and curricula choices in every sector of American society, including corporations, arts groups, schools and government agencies.

Emhoff’s comments about critiques of bad school policies that he likened to the Nazis are just the tip of the same DEI iceberg that is determined to sink any notion of fairness or respect for free speech throughout the country. Like the Stanford students, he, too, thinks that he’s speaking up for justice. But all they are doing is reinforcing a culture of intolerance for dissent against woke doctrine.

Most Americans may feel these incidents have nothing to do with them, and that their own rights are secure. But we all need to understand that if elite law students can harass and silence a federal appellate judge and the vice president’s husband can get away with labeling school-board critics as hatemongers, then anyone is vulnerable to being similarly canceled by woke mobs. The war on free speech is just starting, and it is inextricably linked to the way too many people who ought to know better have already conceded the defeat of liberty by bending their knees to the DEI doctrine.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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