Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Best Government Money Can Buy

We had it, according to Mark Twain, quite some time ago, and will have it again.  He could be amusing at times, could old Sam, and perceptive as well when he was not pandering to his readers by commenting buffoonishly on noisy, dirty, smelly foreigners in such works as Innocents Abroad (I was reminded of this sad characteristic while reading Mencken's fine essay on Puritanism in American literature).

That Twain felt we had in his time such a government reminds us that things are not all that different, our Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United notwithstanding.  I can't but feel that there lurks in liberal criticism of that decision a petulance born of the belief that there are simply not enough liberally-minded corporations readily available to foot Democratic bills as there are conservative ones to pay for Republican campaigns.  Regardless, though, it is always a concern when money figures so prominently in the election of officials of any kind.  It's not clear to me, however, that the view of the majority of the Supremes that corporations are people for purposes of free speech as well as for other purposes adds that much to the corruption of our politics.

Of greater concern I think is the rejection of limitations on financial contributions to the efforts of our leaders and those who wish to lead us to induce us to vote for them or those things they hold dear.  Corporations have been treated as persons in the law for so many years for so many reasons that maintaining they are not for other, particular purposes is somewhat awkward.  Limiting financial contributions is relatively clear and simple, would likely reduce the opportunity for corruption and would seem to have no clear adverse impact of any significant kind.  It may make it more difficult for our politicians and their minions to bombard us with increasingly trite, simplistic and hyperbolic propaganda, but this would not be a bad thing.

This brings us to the rather perplexing view which is translated into the phrase that "money is speech."  It clearly is not in itself.  It can, though, facilitate the ability of some not only to speak, but to speak very loudly and frequently in many different locations to many people.  Is this facilitation itself free speech, to be accorded constitutional protection?

Consider the law applicable to restrictions on the constitutional right to free speech.  Consider, in other words, those circumstances in which it has been held that government has wrongfully limited that right.  I think it would be accurate to state that money is not often a factor, except to the extent that it somehow figures in action which results in the prohibition or limitation of speech itself.  That unconstitutional limitation rightfully relates to the content of speech or the act of speaking, however, not to the quantity of speech.

If one is prohibited from saying something by government, or speaking at all, that is or should be significant in the law.  If one is prohibited not from saying something, but from having access to unlimited amounts of money from particular donors which will allow you to say it again and again, at all times and in all places through media of all kinds, and hiring professionals to say that something in the most persuasive manner, that is or should be something quite different as far as the law is concerned.

Of course, we can only truly avoid being led by the nose by our politicians and their lackeys by thinking analytically.  But that would mean spending money on educating people to do so.  That wouldn't make money thought, but it would be a thoughtful use of money (I should never have read Chesterton; I can't avoid these cloying little gibes at times, and blame it all on him).  Unfortunately, thinking is often something those who have the money would rather we not do.

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