It’s hard to know which quality of Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita’s invites more contempt — his intelligence or his integrity.
In the aftermath of the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol that led to the deaths of five people and prompted social media companies to ban President Donald Trump from their sites, Rokita couldn’t wait to pander to the people who desecrated a temple of democracy.
He tweeted his support for Donald Trump — who just had incited the mob to trash the Capitol and encouraged them to attack, among others, Rokita’s fellow Indiana politician, Vice President Mike Pence. He followed that with a condemnation of Twitter’s decision to ban Trump permanently from its platform with a statement that was as inane as it was incomprehensible.
“Private companies can control speech on their property, just as private citizens can. However, when those private companies are effectively monopolies, controlling the entire dialogue of a nation, and using that control to suppress certain speech, we are compelled as a people and as elected officials, through the democratic process, to uphold Constitutional protections on free speech,” Rokita said.
What Rokita was arguing was the strange notion that private companies or individuals could be compelled to publish or utter things they did not wish to if they became too successful.
It’s a bold argument — one, alas, not supported in any way by American constitutional law. If the new Indiana attorney general genuinely does believe in government-regulated expression and thought, one might be able to admire the foolhardy and wrongheaded courage of embracing authoritarian values in a country and state dedicated to republican principles.
But there’s little reason to think Rokita really believes what he says.
The man has been involved in Indiana politics for what seems like centuries now, always running for whatever office was available to him at any given moment. Throwing his hat into the ring is a reflex for him — he once launched three different campaigns in one year.
During that time, he has had many opportunities to test his theory that media companies that are too big lose their First Amendment rights to decide what they wish to say and what they don’t.
If, for example, in the days when Fox News ruled cable news like a colossus there was a moment when Rokita told Rupert Murdoch that he must — must — give liberal provocateur Michael Moore a prominent platform on Murdoch’s channel, I missed it.
Ditto for the day that Rokita informed conservative blowhard Rush Limbaugh, who owned talk radio for more than two decades, that Limbaugh was obligated to share his audience with progressive Al Franken. If it happened, it slipped by me.
Rokita’s devotion to private enterprise’s right to regulate itself might extend to polluting the atmosphere or endangering laborers’ lives in the workplace, but his fealty to freedom and free enterprise must yield when those values come into conflict with his political ambitions.
Because Todd Rokita’s ambition is a motor that never rests, an engine that never stops. He runs for office because running is all he knows.
Now, it appears, he sees the attorney general’s office as a launching pad for the Indiana governorship. If he has to win the GOP gubernatorial nomination in a contested primary, he’s betting the Trump base will help push him over the top.
That is why he’s offering slavish obeisance to legal theories that are as outlandish as they are idiotic. He knows those theories play to the cheap seats.
The reality is that Twitter or Facebook or any other media enterprise can publish whatever it wishes. But those media enterprises also must stand behind what they publish.
What the social media giants have decided is that they don’t want to stand behind incitements to insurrection or serial falsehoods about “stolen” elections that were won and lost fair and square. Perhaps the social media Solons are doing this because they fear the liability that might follow if one of Trump’s pronouncements inspired even greater horrors.
Or maybe they’re just trying to do the right thing.
Whether they’ve barred Donald Trump from their platforms because doing so is smart or because it’s ethical — or maybe both — it’s unlikely Todd Rokita would understand.
Wisdom and virtue don’t seem to be concepts he can grasp.