Free speech for me, but not for thee
Since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which lifted the unconstitutional ban on independent political expenditures by corporations and unions, The New York Times and other liberal media outlets have had their editorial knickers in a twist. Outrage verging on hysteria emerges from their constant stream of editorials on the topic. Yet every time the Times criticizes the Supreme Court for striking down the restrictive federal censorship law, the Gray Lady reveals that its real concern is not “the potential for corruption” as it claimed in a Feb. 24 editorial, but the ability of those with whom it disagrees to speak out.
What else can one make out of its criticism of various PAC contributors like Harold Simmons, Peter Thiel and Foster Friess? According to the Times, it is just terrible that Simmons can contribute large amounts to various candidate PACs as well as American Crossroads, an independent PAC run by (horror of horrors!) Karl Rove. Apparently, Simmons should be stripped of free speech because he owns companies that “make metals, paints and chemicals,” operates a “radioactive waste dump,” and has “contracts to clean up federal hazardous waste sites.” The cad!
Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal “and outspoken libertarian” (oh my!), has dared lament the “rise of the welfare state.” And the dreadful Foster Friess must forfeit his constitutional First Amendment rights because he was once president of the Council for National Policy. The Times informs us CNP is a “secretive” club that “opposes unions, same-sex marriage and government regulation.” Golly!
Of course, that “secretive” Council for National Policy has a website in which it actually has the impudence to say that it believes in “limiting the size and scope of government to allow Americans greater freedom to reach their fullest potential,” that we were founded on traditional values and “that our culture flourishes when we uphold them,” and that the premise on which the country was founded that “all men are created equal” is “worth defending.” How abhorrently revolutionary!
But that’s not all. According to the Times, even executives at hedge funds and investment firms have given money to PACs! And those executives actually have the unmitigated gall to be “interested in fewer regulations and a low tax rate for their type of income.”
The Times is very concerned that all of these individuals have “undue influence” on the Republican presidential candidates. They are, the Grey Lady frets, privileged Americans who will “buy elections.” Of course, the last time I checked they each still only had one vote out of the tens of millions that will be cast in the next presidential election. And vote buying remains a federal offense.
But of course, the Times’s real complaint is that these individuals are engaging in political speech by giving to PACs that will push the ideas that run counter to the Times’s notion of how this country should operate. These individuals want less government regulation, lower tax rates, and less interference by the all-too-powerful federal government in the personal and professional lives of Americans.
Given that most Americans believe in those same ideas, I hope the Times is right and that the contributions by these gentlemen encourage candidates to uphold such solutions to our public policy woes. Of course, what the Times’s editorial page fails to mention is that, prior to the Citizens United decision, large media corporations like The New York Times Company enjoyed a special exemption in the law. It allowed them to speak freely on political matters and political candidates, even though other corporations and unions were banned from speaking. No wonder the Times doesn’t like the Citizens United decision – it got rid of the exclusive media corporation oligarchy that controlled the public debate.
Contrary to the Times‘s claim in another foolish editorial on Feb. 12, Citizens United is not responsible for the “damage done to American democracy.” It was the ill-advised passage by Congress of the McCain-Feingold law in 2002 and the ban on independent political expenditures by another Congress in 1947. Harry Truman vetoed the 1947 ban, calling it a “dangerous intrusion on free speech.” Unfortunately, Congress overrode that veto.
Liberal stalwarts of the Supreme Court like Earl Warren, Hugo Black, and William Douglas all criticized the federal ban as unconstitutional. That puts them in good company with Justices Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Alito, and Thomas, all of whom have been unfairly and injudiciously maligned by the Times, President Obama, and other liberals. Their decision in Citizens United should be celebrated, not criticized. It was and is in the best interests and traditions of our First Amendment, an amendment that is fundamental to our democracy.