Ben Carson Calls for a Right-Wing Fairness Doctrine on College Campuses

If elected, he would empower bureaucrats in the Department of Education to slash funding for colleges that show “extreme political bias.”

Mike Stone / Reuters

In an interview with Glenn Beck, Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson declared that if elected, he wouldn’t eliminate the Department of Education, as parts of the conservative movement have long urged. “I actually have something I would use the Department of Education to do,” he said. “It would be to monitor our institutions of higher education for extreme political bias and deny federal funding if it exists.”

That sounds a lot like the fairness doctrine, which required federally licensed  broadcast outlets to present civic matters in a way that bureaucrats at the FCC deemed honest, equitable, and balanced. Its 1987 repeal was one factor in the rise of talk radio, and movement conservatives hate it so much that every year or two there are conspiracy theories about Democrats wanting to reimpose it on the country.

They’re right to hate the fairness doctrine—and they should hate Ben Carson’s proposal, too.

Revoking university funding for political bias sounds like it would involve federal officials punishing speech based on its viewpoint, a clear violation of the First Amendment.

And even if it weren’t unconstitutional and hypocritical––a right-wing version of the very abrogations of intellectual freedom on campus that the right-wing correctly inveighs against––it is a remarkably dumb proposal, even for an unprincipled, big-government conservative who wants nothing more than to stick it to the left-wing.

Think of career bureaucrats at the Department of Education empowered to decide what constitutes improper political bias on college campuses. Does Ben Carson really think that their conclusions would resemble his own conclusions? In what ideological direction does he suppose such a panel would drift over time? Would he deny federal funds to Notre Dame if the university showed political bias against abortion?

This proposal is constitutionally suspect, hypocritical, poorly conceived, and laughably naive. It “should serve as a powerful reminder that many supposedly limited-government conservatives would actually use federal power to oppress people in ways remarkably similar to those on the left,” Robby Soave writes at Reason.

I wonder if Ben Carson will stand by this discrediting idea.