Will We Keep the First Amendment Safe From Harry Reid? - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Will We Keep the First Amendment Safe From Harry Reid?

Nobody tell Harry Reid that a few clauses of Magna Carta are still in effect—he’ll want to repeal them next.

We’ve only got a few tatters left of our own counterpart to that document, and Reid just led a party of Democrats on a raid to destroy them. Our Bill of Rights came with ten amendments, but we’re down to one that’s reasonably intact—the First Amendment—and now the Democrats want that one, too.

OK, I’ll concede the Third Amendment’s in fine shape, but only because there are no armies of soldiers crashing into bedrooms uninvited, whatever Claire McCaskill might think. But otherwise, the First Amendment is just about all we have left of our republican experiment. The forces of control have taken the rest, even our property, which they loan back to us on certain conditions.

Just forty years ago, there were still a few areas that even the historically liberal Roe v. Wade Supreme Court acknowledged to be “fundamental” personal rights: marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, and childrearing and education. Now, the headlines tell us that’s the last bit of terrain in dispute on a battlefield that the government forces have conquered. From gay marriage to Hobby Lobby, from Adrian Peterson to the parents who keep getting arrested for letting their kids go to the park, we’re told there is one way to do things and deviance will be punished, as harshly as Peterson punishes his kids, apparently.

That’s the modern left. Folks may think they still belong to the lovable mommy party, but they’re really just enabling politicians whose justifications sound the same as Peterson’s: “hey daddy has the biggie heart but don’t play no games when it comes to acting right.”

We’re supposed to have some defense against the switch, of course, but the Bill of Rights has been under assault since the Constitution was ratified. Nine of its ten amendments are in ruins, or at the least, badly damaged. Anyone tried to stop a cop from searching him lately? Gotten a quick trial? Taken a handgun to New Jersey? Served time unmolested? Benefitted from one of those unenumerated rights?

The First Amendment, however, has been a glorious exception to the general disrepair of our Bill of Rights. It hasn’t been lawyered to death, punched full of loopholes, its prohibitions outweighed by a neverending list of “compelling government interests.” We define speech broadly enough to encompass nearly any human expression, no matter how vulgar or pointless. The church/state wall works reasonably well, our press is free to miss the point, we let Nazis and commies march in public, and we even tolerate a swarm of wheedling lobbyists, just out of respect for that bit about redress of grievances. It’s not an absolute, but it’s the closest thing we’ve got to one in public affairs.

It was the one amendment we all agreed on, that we all respected, until now. While media hacks pretend the Democrat’s failed amendment wouldn’t have repealed most of the First Amendment, Sen. Patrick Leahy was a bit more honest about what his party is up to.

“Over the course of this debate, we have heard Senators talking as if the First Amendment is absolute,” Leahy wrote in a statement. “Most Americans can see right through this. They know that the First Amendment does not protect child pornography; or obscenity; or statements that incite imminent lawless action; or defamation or slander; or speech integral to criminal conduct; or fraudulent speech or perjury. And they know that the First Amendment is not violated when laws restrict even political speech by regulating the reasonable time, place, and manner of demonstrations or protests. The idea that any future law on campaign contributions and expenditures that has an incidental effect on speech somehow renders it the equivalent of censorship is just not a serious argument.”

We ought to thank the Democrats for being foolish enough to think they’ve generated a campaign issue that will help them. They clearly think political speech deserves no more protection than pornography, and can be confined in the same way that some universities render undesirable advocates invisible, by restricting them to “free speech zones” of a few square feet.

The new, improved version of the First Amendment protects only the freedom of the press; you get one guess as to who decides whether you count as press. Congress and the states would get unrestricted power to pass laws prohibiting “natural persons and corporations and other artificial entities… from spending money to influence elections.”

If anyone thinks that would just apply to ad buys, I’d refer him to the case of Michael Quinn Sullivan, a Texas liberty advocate being persecuted by a state commission over a scorecard that he publishes measuring state legislators by a “fiscal responsibility index” of their votes. The commissioners—stooges, mostly, for Sullivan’s RINO antagonists running the Legislature—say Sullivan failed to register as a lobbyist, because the scorecard is meant to “influence” legislators, and somebody must be paying his salary. The formula is the same: influence plus expenditure equals lobbying or campaign spending or what have you. If you’re as effective as Sullivan’s been in criticizing the powers that be, you can expect the machinery of state to shut you down under any regime that lets politicians control speech.

The left continually mocks the notion that there’s an important connection between speech and money. They know, of course, that speaking to a mass audience usually requires some form of organization (or, horrors, incorporation) and that it always requires money, and in ignoring that fact, they’re dishonest. But there’s an even more important connection that they genuinely don’t get: nobody’s going to try a frontal, content-based assault on your speech rights. It’s much simpler to regulate expenditure. This way, if somebody pays you (and isn’t that all of us?), then you have no fundamental right to speech. How could it be otherwise? If you are arguing or marching or blogging, even on your own time, how is the government to know you aren’t acting on your company’s behalf, or on behalf of one of its partners? How can it allow you to influence an election when the money in your pocket once belonged to a corporation somewhere? I’m not speculating; Democrat Twitter is filled with people convinced that every conservative is secretly a minion of the Koch brothers.

This failed Constitutional amendment ought to be a moment of truth for the left. If they’ll stop chortling about corporations not being people long enough to consider what just happened, they’ll see something like the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956. When the party leadership moves to crush dissent and secure its own power at any cost, serious leftists disassociate themselves from the party. But few on the left will see it that way. They don’t give any thought to the rightful limits of government power, as perfectly exemplified by Elena Kagan’s famously bumbling response to the question of whether Congress could require Americans to eat their fruits and vegetables. And they’re simply oblivious to the dangers of unchecked government power. Here are just a few of the abuses this sort of law would permit, according to the American Civil Liberties Union:

  • “Congress would be allowed to restrict the publication of Secretary Hillary Clinton’s forthcoming memoir ‘Hard Choices’ were she to run for office;
  • “Congress could criminalize a blog on the Huffington Post by Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, that accuses Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) of being a ‘climate change denier’;
  • “A state election agency, run by a corrupt patronage appointee, could use state law to limit speech by anti-corruption groups supporting reform;
  • “A local sheriff running for reelection and facing vociferous public criticism for draconian immigration policies and prisoner abuse could use state campaign finance laws to harass and prosecute his own detractors;
  • “A district attorney running for reelection could selectively prosecute political opponents using state campaign finance restrictions…”

“Such examples are not only plausible, they are endless,” the ACLU writes. And they’re not even hypothetical. From the John Doe investigations in Wisconsin, to the harassment of Sullivan in Texas, to Ohio’s just struck-down law letting the government ban “false” political advertisements, to the Internal Revenue Service’s harassment of tea party groups and revocation of tax exempt status for organizations that commit journalism, there are already plenty of functionaries trying to use the government to muzzle conservatives.

Just think what they’d do if that was legal.

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