Friday, January 22, 2010

Free Speech For Me and Thee and Thee

I'm an absolutist when it comes to free speech. The First Amendment says "Congress shall make NO laws..." It DOESN'T say "Congress shall make no laws...EXCEPT those laws that are anti-corporate, incumbent-protecting and election-controlling."

To me, in the absence of some clear and present danger (shouting 'fire' in a crowded theater, for example) NO law means NO law. Back off my message, bucko.

And so I was greatly cheered yesterday when the Supreme Court blasted a huge hole through the so-called McCain-Feingold campaign law banning corporations and labor unions from paying for “electioneering communications,” such as movies, newspaper ads, and the like, that support or oppose candidates.

I'll never understand McCain's willingness to lend his name to such obviously unconstitutional claptrap. It's bizarre that he ever thought such lunacy was constitutional. It's downright scary that 4 Supreme Court justices agree with him.

The antidote to speech you DISAGREE with is speech you AGREE with, not prohibitive laws stifling opinions. And with the rise of social media and networking, the ability of deep-pocketed organizations to "buy" elections with huge media budgets lessens by the day.

Pornographers enjoy near-total First Amendment protection, yet under McCain-Feingold the Sierra Club couldn't argue against, say, deforestation within 30 days of an election if one side or the other challenged the message as electioneering.

Yes, the marketplace of ideas can be rough-and-tumble. Yes, illogical arguments are raised, disturbed opinions voiced and disagreeable conclusions reached. The antidote to all of that is NOT to close the marketplace, but to admit that we've raised a generation of ninnies and nitwits, where uncomfortable arguments hurt "self-esteem" and challenging words represent grounds for legal action, not rhetorical testing.

Admit it, and do something about it.

I remember some Chicago-area Italian-American parents seeking a court order prohibiting a high school drama club from performing a play portraying SOME Italians as gangsters. What message does that send? Are we really THAT thin-skinned? The parents' time might have been better-spent putting on their own play portraying Italians as artists, inventors, writers and philosophers.

Of course that would have meant actually learning something about Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Boccaccio and Machiavelli. Why do that, why engage in the marketplace of ideas when all you REALLY need to know is your damn lawyer's phone number?

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