“No Tolerance” For Adversary Free Speech at Obama’s HHS?

According to a press release sent out by the Department of Health and Human Services, “Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the national association of health insurers, calling on their members to stop using scare tactics and misinformation to falsely blame premium increases for 2011 on the patient protections in the Affordable Care Act.” In her letter, Sibelius wrote…

“It has come to my attention that several health insurer carriers are sending letters to their enrollees falsely blaming premium increases for 2011 on the patient protections in the Affordable Care Act.  I urge you to inform your members that there will be zero tolerance for this type of misinformation and unjustified rate increases.”

This is an ethics foul, and one that is both frightening and clumsy. What one advocate regards as “scare tactics” may be an adversary’s political argument, and for a government agency and Cabinet member to make threats about “zero tolerance” for representations the Obama Administration finds annoying, excessive, exaggerated or even outright false is an effort to inhibit free speech by intimidation. Note to our Constitutional scholar in the White House: you’re not supposed to do that. Undemocratic, you know. I’m going to have a hard time criticizing Mark Levin and Rush Limbaugh for accusing you of trying to establish a totalitarian regime if this continues.

Of course, if this continues, this post might get me put in a re-education camp.

This has hardly been an Administration that eschews “scare tactics” when it suits its purposes. For example, Factcheck.org flagged as false the President’s claim that Republican leaders are pushing to make “privatizing Social Security a key part of their legislative agenda” should they regain control of the House and Senate and that it was “right up there on their to-do list with repealing” parts of the new health care law. There is no scare tactic more enshrined in any party’s playbook than the Democratic Party’s “scare seniors about their Social Security checks” routine. What makes dragging out that old trick legitimate, and insurance companies arguments against the Affordable Care Act as worthy of a “no tolerance” threat?

Why, the fact that the Democrats have the power, that’s all. And it is unethical, and un-American for them to use the considerable power of government to silence political speech. I have been trying to imagine what kind of thundering, pompous dressing-down Keith Olbermann would have aimed at President Bush if the Defense Department, for example, sent out a letter declaring that there would be a “no tolerance” policy regarding “misinformation” about U.S. motivations for commencing the Iraq War. Any Administration can take issue with what it thinks is a misrepresentation by an organization, company or individual, and if it can prove that a statement is fraud, the courts are ready. But no American government can unilaterally decree that a point of view is false, and must be punished. “No tolerance” for adversary political speech? How does Obama square that with the First Amendment?

Keep a sharp eye on the media for a liberal blogger, columnist or TV commentator that has the integrity and courage to take H.H.S. and Sec. Sibelius to task for behaving like an Iron Curtain thug. That will be someone you can trust. So far, I haven’t seen one.

[Kudos to the Volokh Conspiracy and Instapundit for flagging this.]

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