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Lamar Alexander Is the Adult In The Room (Charlie Kirk Isn’t)

by Jim Swift
March 23, 2019
Lamar Alexander Is the Adult In The Room (Charlie Kirk Isn’t)
Lamar Alexander. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Lamar Alexander was a governor, a president of a big state school, and secretary of education before being elected to the Senate. Which makes his criticism of President Trump’s recently signed executive order focused on “Improving Free Inquiry, Transparency, and Accountability at Colleges and Universities” all the more interesting.

Business Insider reports: “Trump was urged to do this by conservative youth advocacy group Turning Point USA and its leader Charlie Kirk, who’s made this issue TPUSA’s top priority.”

This, of course, is not true. Turning Point USA’s “top priority” is, well, Turning Point USA. To the extent this organization and its leaders have priorities, they are always in service to self.

The group’s website features no mention of the executive order on the homepage. Aside from declaring that they’re “WINNING AMERICA’S CULTURE WAR,” it’s all Charlie Kirk. The most recent press release featured on their news section is from December 2017.

But their “new and improved” website, where seemingly all of its content is written by just one person (David Bruining) does actually mention the executive order in some fashion: it links to a video of Charlie Kirk on Fox Business talking about it, a comically bad aggregation of a Charlie Kirk op-ed column for, and an update on the accused perpetrator in an on-campus scuffle at UC-Berkeley that birthed this executive order.

Lest we forget, we wouldn’t be discussing this executive order if not for Hayden Williams, the man involved in the scuffle. Williams is not a Berkeley student, but a Leadership Institute staffer airdropped in to help TPUSA with the hard work of converting students to conservatism at Berkeley. Just like Jews for Jesus recruited at my Catholic University, it’s a struggle, but somebody has to do it.

If they are to be believed, Turning Point USA is about ideas, and changing hearts and minds. Even if they’re not really good about clearly explaining those ideas.

Writing, “the activity or skill of marking coherent words on paper and composing text” does to not seem to be a primary weapon in TPUSA’s arsenal. It’s all video these days.

You can consult Kirk’s most recent Breitbart op-ed, but it’s not very helpful in understanding why executive action from the federal government is necessary:

While we do not yet have the details, the new Executive Order will create the mandate to restrict federal funds from schools that do not allow free speech on campus. This is an important day for me personally, as this has been the primary mission of Turning Point USA.

TPUSA is a “Student Movement for Free Markets and Limited Government.” While little things like details might not concern Kirk, it was an important day for him personally when the president of the United States intervened, signing an executive order. Mission accomplished.

So, to find out why this executive order is necessary (or isn’t), you have to go elsewhere.

The president’s remarks, not surprisingly, weren’t very helpful or detailed, either.

So I will offer you a wide variety of news sources to form your own opinion.

The general consensus is that this action is largely redundant, mostly for show. To get funding for research, universities already have to protect free speech on campus. This executive order, vague as it is, doesn’t seem to add anything else to that. And it doesn’t interfere with financial aid, which is in itself interesting in a way.

Those old enough to remember might think back to Grove City College v. Bell. Which is to say that this is about power and intimidation, even if it’s largely toothless and for show. Conservatives used to appreciate keeping the government out of these things.

That’s where Alexander weighs in:

And I agree that colleges should punish hecklers who veto free speech, and stop coddling students to protect them from disagreeable points of view. But I don’t want to see Congress or the President or the department of anything creating speech codes to define what you can say on campus. The U.S. Constitution guarantees free speech. Federal courts define and enforce it. The Department of Justice can weigh in. Conservatives don’t like it when judges try to write laws, and conservatives should not like it when legislators and agencies try to rewrite the Constitution.

Amen. They’re not making any more Lamar Alexanders these days. Instead, we’re raising a crop of Charlie Kirks.

Jim Swift

Jim Swift is a senior editor at The Bulwark.