If you are tempted to dismiss the Media Matters attack on Rush Limbaugh as a boys-will-be-boys feud, Daniel Henninger has some sobering thoughts on why you shouldn’t:

“When Sen. Reid attacked Mr. Limbaugh on the floor of the Senate, some felt that Mr. Limbaugh was a big boy and perfectly capable of defending himself. I’m not so sure. If Mr. Limbaugh and his critics at Media Matters want to have a street fight, that’s their business. But Sens. Reid and Salazar aren’t just a couple of opinionated guys; they are agents of state authority, and they were leaning hard on Mr. Limbaugh. If you are Media Matters, if you are a man or woman of the Left, does state pressure on someone’s political speech discomfort you? Or is it a welcome, even defensible, repression of harmful right-wing speech?”

“This controversy over talk-show hosts is usually fought around Democratic efforts of late to resurrect the Fairness Doctrine. The purpose of this effort–the reason Sen. Reid has attached himself to it–is to suppress voter turnout on the right and lift it on the left. …

“Some of the left-wing sites, however, also do fund raising and political organizing, as in the netroots campaigns against Democratic politicians who didn’t hear that dissent is dead. Talk radio does neither. Its hosts mainly excite people. Reimposing the Fairness Doctrine, essentially a toxic cocktail of boredom, would cause a narcotized right-wing base to sit on its hands, handing an advantage in the turnout wars to the (properly) unregulated political organizers of the left-wing Web.”

But what about the value of free speech? Henninger cites a recent essay by leftist professor Stanley Fish, who is in turn influenced by Herbert Marcuse, the radical guru of the sixties:

“The rationale for this notion is that standard tolerance is rigged against the left. In practice, tolerance extends only to the ideas and beliefs of the powerful, while it shuts out ideas on behalf of the weak or ‘marginalized’–the poor, minorities, women and the rest. Mr. Fish says liberals fail to see ‘the dark side of their favorite virtue.’

“Prof. Fish has an alternative to traditions of tolerance, and to anyone awash in American politics today it will sound familiar: ‘That is to say, and Marcuse says it, anything the right does is bad and should not be tolerated; anything the left does is good and should be welcomed.’ This would explain the emotional intensity and animosity in politics now: The other side no longer deserves minimal respect.”