I encourage everyone to read this editorial in the New York Times about First Amendment interpretations and the recent Supreme Court decision which deconstructs much campaign finance law, allowing corporations and individuals to spend unlimited amounts.
It would seem from reading the article that the Supreme Court majority is vehemently opposed to censorship and sees this as very much in keeping with our right to free speech. Although I am quite opposed to the majority ruling in this case, I must concede that I passionately agree with them on this one point. Someone (I think at the NAACP?) once said that the answer to hate speech was not censorship, but more and better speech. This, I believe, is exactly what our founding fathers intended, but not clad in the jargon of “the marketplace of ideas.”
While I am all for diversity of ideas, the word marketplace is troubling. I appreciate and reap the benefits of this wonderful capitalist economy in our country. The marketplace has done right by me, and I have taken advantage of many opportunities that I was simply born into by being of the middle class. The majority Justices tell us that government interference of any kind in this marketplace of ideas is wrong—that it censors free speech. They conflate dollars with voices however. They also ignore, on principle, a very disturbing fact about our government and its long history of being controlled by corporate interests.
The notion that a corporation has the same rights as the individual is folly, but it is American law. Yet our law also states:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
I read a heavy emphasis here on keeping Government power in check, do you? The issue for me with the ruling is that it gives corporations a blank check to essentially buy elections. Congress actually made a law to make sure the last part of the sentence is upheld, not the other way around. I believe that our government, far from being just heavily influenced by corporate interests, has essentially been taken over by corporations with the politicians as merely figureheads. I’ll give you some links to chew on another time as far as evidence, but play with me here for the sake of argument. Let’s say I’m right, and you then substitute the word Corporation for Government at the end of the First Amendment sentence above. How on earth are the citizens supposed to petition, to dissent, when corporate interests have out spent our voices to the point where they will not be heard in any meaningful sense?
Many people point to the democratizing power of the Internet here. To this I reference the significant portion of the American populace not online, and the overwhelming flow of information in front of those who are online. The Internet is a marvelous, revolutionary invention and we should fight like hell to keep corporate interests from taking it over, too. The Supreme Court decision reverses the essential work of legislators like McCain and Feingold who spearheaded the most recent effort to protect our citizens from those we elect to represent us. How incredibly self-aware they were and how destructive the Supreme Court majority is in the name of our fore fathers.
“We have the greatest opportunity the world has ever seen, as long as we remain honest — which will be as long as we can keep the attention of our people alive. If they once become inattentive to public affairs, you and I, and Congress and Assemblies, judges and governors would all become wolves.”-Thomas Jefferson
The public is mired in apathy, numbed by the onslaught of consumerism and enormous debt created by a system that has fallen prey to wolves of our own creation. Those who have the courage to speak are disadvantaged with a tiny megaphone called the Internet. That printing press on every desktop is lost in a cacophony of courageous voices on all sides of the political spectrum. The voice that rises above the din is the voice that outspends us, the voice that is incorrectly deemed to be equal to the individual by law, the voice of the corporation.
The majority judges are playing alpha dog and ripping the throat of democracy out in the name of liberty. I would kennel the majority, but I don’t believe in censorship. I would vote them out, but the U.S. is not set up that way, and for good reason. I would lobby my elect to curb the court dogs, but I fear I am outspent. I’ll do it anyway because I’m an optimist, and I’m not going down without a fight.