Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Free speech is dead in America: You get what you pay for
by Larry Geller
Today’s insight: Free speech is dead in America.
How so? You or I can pretty much say what we want. Anyone can have a blog, or write a letter to the newspaper, for example.
Actually, the Supreme Court has changed that. In Citizens United it has equated money with speech. The decision is usually criticized because it gives corporations the same free speech rights as ordinary persons. We are now both persons, right? But they are persons with money. Go ahead and write your blog, see if it matters any more. What the Constitution defines as free speech is now noise, chatter, buzz.
What Citizens United did was effectively eliminate free speech altogether. How so? Well, corporations happen to speak by hiring lobbyists or by paying for campaign ads, or by making campaign contributions. They get what they want from government, whether it is freedom from regulation, bailouts, or the ability to leave 27,000 abandoned oil wells under the water. We get… … … what, exactly?
When is the last time you hired a lobbyist? So what do you expect? Unemployment benefits? Jobs? Medical care? Where is your lobbyist?
There are something like 12 lobbyists per each member of Congress (I’ve seen different numbers). At all levels of government, the strength of speech depends on how much money is behind it. With the Citizens United decision, the scales have been tipped irretrievably in favor of corporate money, which has been ruled to be speech. Sure, basically it has been like this for some time, but now it’s clear. Speech=money. It’s official.
So when Citibank speaks to a Congressman, it speaks loud and clear.
Ok, now you try it. Go ahead, squeak up. Sorry, I meant speak up.
The truth is that the Supreme Court simply validated that money talks. A $10,000 campaign ad on TV speaks loudly. If I write my Congressman, I’ll be lucky to eventually get back one of those polite form letters they send to “constituents.”
Might as well re-define “constituents” also. To a legislator, a constituent is one of those pesky people they have to convince to vote for them. End of definition. After voting, constituents go away for a few years.
But lobbyists knock on the door each and every day, conducting the real business of government that we have nothing to do with.
We still have that Constitutional guarantee though, right? I’m not sure. You’ll notice that increasingly free speech is being punished. For example, peaceful demonstrators with permits and journalists are increasingly arrested and beaten by police and later released without charges. Grassroots organizations are spied upon and have been raided and members even detained, only to be released after an event without charge.
So much for free speech guarantees of our Constitution. Corporate (paid) speech doesn’t result in arrests, however.
Now that speech is officially money, free speech has become officially worthless, of course. Go ahead and write that letter to the editor. While we write, lobbyists are lining up to speak with Senator Inouye. Of course, someone on his staff actually writes a response to you while the Senator listens to the corporate lobbyists. Someone has paid for that. Your “free” speech gets you a form letter. Theirs gets them legislation.
The value of free speech may now be zero. If you insist on it, you only get what you paid for.
The Constitution only guaranteed the freedom to speak. It did not guarantee any equality to be heard nor any equality of the impact of the freedom to speak.
The world, the country and the Constitution does not guarantee "fair", "equal" or "even".
For example, it guarantees the freedom to pursue happiness...not the guarantee of achieving it, or even of being in a fair or equal race.
We are a meritocracy here in America. Unequals are not, and should not, be treated equally.
Constitution does say equal: "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." (Section 1, Amendment 14, U.S. Constitution)
Constitution does not contain the word "happiness" and makes no reference to the freedom to "pursue happiness."
Without regard to the "unequals" argument above, classical Marxists object to legal equality claims because they simply "pass through" unequal economic and political realities (e.g. the one who owns the means of production simply have the law equally enforced against the property-less worker).
So, we all get equal ability and right to buy all the advertising "voice" we can afford. Some can afford more than others. Everyone has the "equal right" to try and achieve money and power, just not the entitlement to it, or even the entitlement to pretty much anything. You have the equal right to fail and disappear into a miserable existence, though.
Meritocracy...remember? Supported by a constitutionally defined representative republic.