Friday, October 29, 2010

A False Choice

Those who've taken to calling themselves tea partiers are fond of saying that the solution to our nation's problems is to get back to following the Constitution. Good advice. Trouble is, as John Nichols aptly pointed out in a recent column, the constitutional principles to which they profess fidelity often are unrecognizable to the rest of us and would be equally unfamiliar to the framers themselves.

Christine O'Donnell's take on church and state clearly is the most amusing and frequently cited example of this, but the problem does not begin or end with her ignorance of the Establishment Clause. Tea party groups are in league with Citizens United and have come down firmly against campaign finance reform, even opposing more disclosure of campaign donors and election spending. They say any such reform is inconsistent with the First Amendment.

It's not just the tea partiers who've bought in to the notion that we have to choose between preventing government corruption and allowing free expression. The venerable Wall Street Journal falls prey when it asks "Should free speech be curbed in the name of good government?" Some who long supported disclosure now say political transparency and political discourse are incompatible. Even pro-reform commentaries often fall into the trap of believing that keeping our government as clean, open and honest as possible is a goal that might have to be sacrificed because of the Constitution.

The choice that is relentlessly thrust upon us is a false one. It has its basis in a radical reinterpretation of the First Amendment. We were 200 years into the American experiment and the First Amendment was 185 years old by the time the U.S. Supreme Court interpreted those 45 words to mean that money equals speech in the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo case.

From that moment on, it's been drummed into us that we must choose between protecting the right to speak and safeguarding our government from corruption and our republic from the onset of plutocracy. At the same time, any thought to whether the right to speak bears any relationship to the ability to be heard in our society has been beaten out of us.

It's not an either-or. The future of the American experiment depends on our ability to break free of the brainwashing we've been subjected to for 30-plus years. It is possible and indeed necessary to combat corruption and have a vibrant marketplace of ideas. It is both possible and essential that we protect the right of each individual to speak and ensure that the First Amendment has real meaning to those who don't possess great riches by seeing to it that the wealthiest in our society aren't the only ones whose voices are heard. We can and must follow the Constitution and reestablish that money is property, not speech. In fact, reestablishing that fact is the single most important way we can honor the framers' design.


Unknown said...

Well said, Mike~ Couldn't agree with you more & nice piece. Gary Hagar

Mike McCabe said...

Thanks, Gary. Good to know you are still following this stuff. Great hearing from you.

Turtle said...

Some on the right will say, there is money from left wing and right wing sources so what is the big deal. David Brooks says the money follows the passion. I don't buy this stuff but was wondering what our ultimate goal is. Thanks Mike. Dan McMahon

clyde winter said...

It is essential that Americans establish in law and our Constitution that (1) corporations must not have the same rights as living human beings, and that (2) distributing huge sums of money and other material benefits to elected officials, candidates for public office, and political parties is not an exercise of "free speech", but is a destruction of democracy. Otherwise, the American Dream is reduced to nothing more than an exclusive, protected path to even more wealth and power for the super-rich, and a desperate search for crumbs under the table and a prayer to win the unlikely lottery for the rest of the people.

clyde winter said...

Here's a postscript I should have added to my previous comment.

Clearly stating by constitutional amendment the obvious assumption and intent of the Founders of our Constitution and of the framers and ratifiers of the 14th Amendment that "persons" are living, breathing human beings (and that, consequently, corporations do not automatically possess all the same Constitutional legal rights as do living human beings) will not and cannot detract one iota from the rights of any human being. A transnational corporate CEO, the owner of a small family business, and any other person will still have all the same Constitutional rights they currently have. Non-living legal entities known as corporations will not have those rights. Instead they will have rights, responsibilities, and obligations as defined by law.

Turtle said...

Why didn't we press Obama and the Democratic majority to pass a law restating the definition of a corporation. What progress could we have made had that gotten passed. I hear less about changing the law through congress and the president and more about a constitutional amendment. Changing the law seems easier.