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Government & Politics

In Regulating Political Speech, Progressives Forget History

The Left's push to is reminiscent of Prohibition.

Sep. 10, 2014

History is against the Democrat senators who introduced a bill this week they hope will become the 28th Amendment to the Constitution.

In 1918, Congress created the 18th Amendment. In prohibiting the creation and distribution of alcohol, progressives at the dawn of the 20th century hoped to alleviate poverty and reduce mental illness. But the “noble experiment,” as Herbert Hoover called it, only resulted in organized crime, disrespect for Rule of Law and finally the 21st Amendment that repealed the hope for that so-called progressive utopia.

Nearly 100 years later, progressives in Congress want to make elections a more civil affair, made “equal” by controlling political contributions. But doing so would gut the First Amendment as we know it by giving the government more control over political speech, and the results could be more like Prohibition than they care to admit.

Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) introduced the bill to amend the Constitution in order to roll back the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FCC, which overturned parts of the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance “reform” law. Forty-six Democrat Senators jumped to support the amendment, perhaps hoping to score an election-year victory. If the GOP blocked the bill that restricted the ability for corporations to donate to political campaigns, then Democrats could whip up their Leftist base. But the Republicans played along. In a 79-18 vote, 45 Republicans joined Democrats, allowing the vote to proceed to debate.

Democrats complained that the move will waste precious legislating time before the midterm elections, which only highlights their own cynical political farce. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) wrote in an op-ed, “Not surprisingly, a proposal as bad as the one Senate Democrats are pushing won’t even come close to garnering the votes it would need to pass.”

It’s not hard to see why. The amendment obliterates the First Amendment’s command that “Congress shall make no law” and instead gives it a blank check to regulate political speech. While politicians have rammed freight trains through “loopholes” they discovered in the Constitution, this amendment will create a rift the size of the Grand Canyon. Congress would decide how much money should be spent on a campaign, what defines political speech, how much speech is fair and what media outlets qualify as “the press.”

The First Amendment’s absolute ban on the government’s intrusion on speech meant just that – an absolute ban. Anyone – like Ben Franklin – could buy a printer and start rolling out his or her own publications. It’s an idea that supposes every citizen can make decisions for themselves, that they can self-govern and that the government’s idea of truth and fairness may very well be wrong.

But the Left, for the most part, has forgotten the importance of the First Amendment in its chase for the perfect civil election. Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, said the Democrats’ amendment will restore an equality that will once again allow the country to be governed by and for the people: “Thanks to a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions, most notably Citizens United, the super-rich and giant corporations are pouring money into our elections at record levels. Outside money – hundreds of millions in ‘dark money,’ from sources undisclosed – are determining the contours of elections across the country, often stealing control of campaign narratives from candidates themselves. Degrading and depressing negative ads fill the airwaves, heightening citizen cynicism and frustration.”

The Left envisions an election that’s fair because the government made it fair. No more attack ads, so voters can decide calmly and thoughtfully. Gone will be the day when one candidate outspends his or her opponent. If only this passes, then the people could actually progress. How boring. How tyrannical.

You could call us biased on this one, but politics is messy and fun – always has been, always will be. That’s the American way. Ohio created a law that said all political ads must be truthful. The law was challenged in court earlier this year, and humorist P.J. O'Rourke submitted an Amicus Brief arguing American politics have never been the hallowed event the Left assumes it always was until the Koch brothers decided to donate to conservative causes.

O'Rourke writes: “While George Washington may have been incapable of telling a lie, his successors have not had the same integrity. The campaign promise (and its subsequent violation), as well as disparaging statements about one’s opponent (whether true, mostly true, mostly not true, or entirely fantastic), are cornerstones of American democracy. Indeed, mocking and satire are as old as America, and if this Court doesn’t believe amici, it can ask Thomas Jefferson, ‘the son of a half-breed squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.’”

While the Left goes after “dark money” in politics, it ignores human nature, just like it ignored human nature 100 years ago.

The Left argues the election system is broken because money is being poured into it by Big Business. But the system is broken because politicians can be bought and sold. Yet instead of going after themselves, politicians go after the large political organizations and corporations. The problem is still there because there is still a market. People will still drink their hooch. Politicians will still be influenced by money.

The Left blogosphere, like Daily Kos, is telling its readers to “start calling your Representative until your fingers are bloody.” Disrupt the progressive narrative that this is only a debate between the people versus the big, bad corporations. Contact your senator and tell him or her they should support the First Amendment.

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