The Founding Fathers established the First Amendment to protect two forms of speech: political and religious. Yet in a typically perverse irony of our time, these blameless exercises of the First Amendment are regarded as “shocking” violations of it while a growing culture of obscenity not protected by the framers receives its imprimatur. Daily we’re told of sinister “outside groups” churning out…political speech. “Outside groups” is treated as a discussion-ending epithet by both the Bush and Kerry camps. Why the existence of independent groups should strike fear into the hearts of Americans is never explained. Is the United States of America owned by the Democratic and Republican parties?
It would be difficult to come up with a more blatant violation of the First Amendment than the McCain-Feingold idiocy now accorded the utmost respect in our political culture. Concerned citizenship has become a felony. Pols feel comfortable rebutting “issue ads” — a phrase which is supposed to convey unspeakable malignity — not by saying that the ads are wrong but by declaring that they should not air at all. Pols cleave to the Federal Election Commission like Bolsheviks unwilling to abide any criticism outside tightly controlled state channels. They won’t enforce obscenity laws but they will ask the FEC to enforce the new laws against the very political speech the Constitution was written to protect.
Should these outrageous laws serve as a stimulus to civil disobedience, it will be interesting to see how far these phonies will go to protect their incumbency. All of their favorite pejoratives — “special interests,” “issue ads,” “outside groups” — amount to nothing more than political speech that makes it difficult for them to win reelection. Future generations will likely wonder how the American people could so passively allow corrupt politicians to criminalize political speech that threatened to unseat them.
The provisions of the McCain-Feingold laws seem comically unreal. “I criticized John McCain in an issue ad 60 days before his reelection,” is a potential jailhouse yarn at this point. The media are still sore about an “outside group” knocking McCain out of the 2000 presidential race. With his new monarchical powers, McCain, should concerned citizens ever try such a stunt again, can ask the Justice Department to jail them for up to five years.
While McCain touts democracy abroad, he curtails it at home, on the grounds that our democracy somehow can’t handle “negative attack ads” which “do little to further beneficial debate.” Even the groups permitted under the new laws — the 527s — apparently aren’t supposed to speak during an election. The Democrats don’t mind them right now, since they have more of them than the Republicans. But were Kerry the target of $60 million worth of ads by them he would join Bush in saying, as he did on Monday, that “I don’t think we ought to have 527s.”
Notice that both campaigns respond to ads by calling for their suppression — a revealing measure of McCain-Feingold’s straightforward silencing of political speech. Calls to suppress free speech would once have been politically dangerous. Now they are standard fare in the culture of McCain-Feingold which allows those with power to define the rules for its challenge, rigging the game in favor of established pols at the expense of individuals. The media, happy to go along with the silencing of the citizenry as that means their power increases, cast the suppression of free speech, a move they wouldn’t tolerate in any other context, as “reform.”
The destruction of the real purposes of the First Amendment is complete when pols can dignify obscenities with the name of free speech while treating “issue ads” as intolerable obscenities worth punishing with jail time.
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