George Will explains why progressives like Sanders and Clinton are anti-free speech over at The Washington Post:
Both have voted to do something never done before — make the Bill of Rights less protective. They favor amending the First Amendment to permit government regulation of political campaign speech.
I see. So unless I’m misunderstanding Will, he’s saying the Bill of Rights has never, since its inception, been altered in any way that would limit the freedoms it guarantees. And he’s also saying, if I’m once again not misunderstanding, that Sanders and Clinton want to actually tack on provisions to the First Amendment rather than reverse a Supreme Court decision. Finally, and if for the last time I’m not misunderstanding Mr. Will’s careful choice of words, he’s saying that unlimited amounts of cash from corporations indirectly donated to candidates is ‘political campaign speech.’
Do people actually believe this shit?
Let’s start with the second claim since it’s easier to deal with. No, Sanders and Clinton have no intention of literally altering the wording of the First Amendment. But I assume Will knows that and is just using a hyperbolic flourish for rhetorical effect, and if not then there’s nothing I can do here for him or anyone who believes what he says. I’ll simply rest my case here that when conservatives like Will cry about how activists and politicians want to curb corporations’ influence in elections, they sound an awful lot like the ‘politically correct’ devils they claim are also threatening free speech. ‘Corporations are people,’ they cry. ‘They have just as much a right as you do to voice their opinions! Corporate Lives Matter!’
As for the Bill of Rights never having been weakened in its protection of freedoms, has Will already forgotten that he openly criticized George W. Bush’s surveillance programs—namely warrantless FBI wiretapping—that clearly intrude upon the rights guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment? Or what about the Military Commissions Act with its vague wording concerning exactly who an ‘enemy combatant’ is and its suspension of habeas corpus (later deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court)? Did that not overstep the bounds of the Sixth Amendment, especially in regard to the individuals who were detained (or, more precisely, kidnapped) and tortured as a result of its implementation (or do they not count because they’re not Americans)? What about Obama’s Associated Press debacle, and his insistence that there ought to be some sort of ‘balance’ between national security interests and freedom of the press? If we wanted to get perfectly technical, the Supreme Court limited the scope of states’ rights by extending the Eighth Amendment’s clause concerning cruel and unusual punishment to apply not only to the federal government, but to states as well.
But that’s not why Will wrote the column. There’s a much more important matter:
Opposition to Citizens United is frequently distilled into the slogan that “corporations are not people,” to which Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) adds this example of progressive insight: “People have hearts. They have kids. They get jobs. They get sick. They cry. They dance. They live. They love. And they die.” And a few teach at Harvard Law School, as Warren was able to do only because Harvard did not die: It is descended from the first corporation chartered in Colonial America.
Did you know George Will once attacked Ann Coulter for delegitimizing conservatives’ intellectual credibility? Apparently understanding that corporations are not really people because real people have hearts is a ‘progressive insight.’ I suppose it is a conservative insight that corporations have a more legitimate claim to personhood than illegal immigrants because… er… well, that doesn’t matter. He somehow draws the connection that because Harvard still exists… corporations are people? Wouldn’t his claim that Harvard isn’t dead, the way normal people leave this world, undermine the point he’s trying to make (whatever that point might be)?
There is a disconnect, willful or not, between proponents and opponents of unlimited election spending, namely that proponents see unlimited election spending in its more abstract form, that while money itself is not speech it can be used as a tool—the way wearing a pink ribbon is expressive of supporting breast cancer research—to facilitate speech and should not be inhibited when individuals act collectively in the form of a corporation, and the opponents view it regarding real-world implications, seeing unlimited election spending as a way to manipulate elections by shaping with humongous donations the issues candidates do and do not address on the campaign trail and what legislation they will try to enact if elected.
Proponents of this kind of spending would have to concede that it’s great that corporations can influence politicians in ways such that they deny reality. That, for instance, Republican politicians receptive to oil industry donations and lobbyists are much more prone to denying the existence or extent of climate change. Or that in a normal world Jeb Bush would have folded long ago because he is not popular among large groups of people, even though he is very popular among rich, corporate donors for some reason.
… the argument for economic equality easily becomes an argument for equalizing political influence. The argument is: Government regulates or seizes property in the name of equity, so why not also, for the same reason, regulate the quantity, content and timing of speech intended to “influence elections”?
If conservatives like Will want to argue the slippery slope that regulating the influence that corporations—independent of the boards and shareholders that control and own them—can wield over elections is the road to Soviet-style censorship, let them. That incredibly small groups of people can decide to spend the profits made in large part by their workers (who have no say in how that money is spent) on candidates of their choice, and realistically expect that they will be compensated in favorable legislation, is already having real-world effects: the money channeled to right-wing Tea Party candidates at the state and federal levels has already altered the face of American politics. It seems odd to take the stance that if you don’t support the idea that publicly unaccountable entities who need no input from the people who make the entity possible in the first place purposefully sway our elections you hate the First Amendment. Hey, I didn’t draw that conclusion, George did.
Besides, I can imagine how Will might have written this op-ed if corporations were more prone to donating to Democrats. You can, too.