Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Who Will Protect Free Speech?

The New York Sun is declaring that Sen. McCain has finally seen the light on free speech:

Mr. McCain's epiphany came during debate on the new "ethics" bill the Senate passed earlier this month. Mr. McCain and the Republicans,— joined by seven Democrats for free speech, voted down a provision that would have redefined the word "lobbyist" to include groups like politically active churches, direct mail companies, small nonprofit organizations, and even bloggers.

Under the provision, known as Section 220 of the Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007, these "paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying" would have been considered lobbying, meaning that organizations that asked the public to contact their elected representatives would have been regulated like multimillion dollar K Street firms.

As much as I do like John McCain, his poor understanding of the First Amendment is troublesome to me. And I'm not going to hold my breath that he's suddenly become a free speech libertarian. But what's far worse is the fact that the party in power - the one supposedly swept in by people indignant over Bush's imperial and fascist presidency - overwhelmingly voted for the measure.

And it gets worse. Led by Dennis Kucinich, the head of the newly created "Domestic Policy Subcommittee of the House Government Reform Committee" (which is apparently more interested in ferreting out subversives than in addressing out-and-out corruption), the Democrats are once again pursuing a return to the ironically named FCC "Fairness Doctrine." This intrusive balancing requirement would kill an entire medium of overt (and usually conservative) political speech - talk radio - but would leave in tact left leaning but putatively un-political "news" like NPR (where you can't even call in to challenge the speaker). Serious attempts have even been made by Congress to expand this concept to the internet - the ultimate expression of a free press surpassing the wildest dreams of by the Founding Fathers.

Meanwhile, one of those Senators who voted for the measure is, of course, rejecting any public funds for support of her Presidential campaign (as ar most of the candidates) , in order to avoid government control of that money. Good for her, but she ironically argues that her choice to opt out of government control is actually proof of why we need even MORE government control of free speech. Government control of speech is good for you, but not for her.

Political contributions, which fund both political speech and are necessary to petition the government for redress of our variougrievanceses through the political process, are at the heart of what should be protected by the First Amendment. Attempts at "reform" through additional regulation only serve (consciously or not) to suppress and control political speech.

The rich always have had an access advantage to political power, and they always will. Nothing will ever change that. In this country, that's not even always a bad thing - it usually takes hard work, vision, ambition, and leadership to become wealthy. But another big part of that advantage comes from their ability to use their wealth to bypass government control by hiring better lawyers, or even creating a completely independent media outlet (think George Soros).

Logically, then, the more regulation that exists, the harder it will be for the non-wealthy to get their views out, run for office, oachieveve their political ends.

So why are liberals (and too many conservatives) so intent on pushing such regulation? The simple answer is that they don't trust us little people to sift through all that speech out there, and make decisions based on it. That's it. And that attitude is flatly un-democratic and un-American.

The only regulation we should see on political speech is transparency and reporting. Let's keep the marketplace of ideas free. I believe deeply in the wisdom of the American people when we get together and determine the direction of our destiny, more than I have faith in politicians to give me the right answers. Our leaders need to harness this wisdom by opening the floodgates - not trying to restrict and control the information flow. That - far more than Jesus in a jar of urine - is what the First Amendment is really all about.


Juvenal said...

I agree that re-introducing the fairness doctrine and extending it to the internet would strike at the core values that the first amendment tries to protect. But surely, there's no danger of that happening is there? The infintely evil and always-to-be-suspected Democrats / Liberals may vote it in, but surely someone as true-blue, staunch, and admirable as President Bush would certainly veto legislation that dramatically infringed on free speech rights? Right?

I love how you manage to direct your ire at the Democratic Congress (which as yet has done asbolutely nothing in this area) when the biggest blow to core First Amendment values in the last 50 years was pushed through a Republican Congress (Senate & House) by a Republican Senator and signed into law by a Republican President.

Who will indeed protect Free Speech? Not the Republicans ...

Orrin Johnson said...

I don't actually disagree with that. The post started as an eye-roller towards the idea that McCain has "seen the light."

But though McCain went too far, he at least has a line to draw somewhere. Bush, misunderstanding his Constitutional duty by NOT vetoing it, at least criticized it in his signing statement. But the Democrats think those things don't go far ENOUGH.

My ire on this issue is bipartisan, and I've been HIGHLY critical of McCain and Bush on this issue before. My renewed ire today is directed at the Dems, not for what they've done, but for what they've promised to do.

Are Republicans great champions of free speech? Not by a long shot. (What politician who wants to stay in power for a career naturally is?) But taking the Dems at their word, they are substantially worse.

PubliusRex said...

Bush signing McCain-Feingold even though he thought it was unconstitutional was an impeachable offense.

PostalMed said...

Of course, trying to make an argument that the "conservative" Republicans signed off on McCain-Feingold is specious, as it presupposes that McCain, Bush, and even most of the Republicans in Congress are conservatives. I know Bush and McCain are not conservatives, and am unhappily coming to the realization that most of the other Republicans in Congress are not either