Monday, March 07, 2011

Free Speech Isn't Free

An interesting confluence of news stories and advertisements this week points up a re-emerging theme recycled from the Bush administration: Free speech is okay if the radical right agrees with what is being said. In their defense, the radical right would have the same complaint were the system to undergo a coup by the radical left tomorrow.

When George W. Bush was president, there was a Secret Service T-shirt patrol, which removed people wearing shirts with political messages unsympathetic to administration policies. At the time, persons who wore such shirts were either removed to a “free speech area,” where they would remain unseen by Bush, or they were arrested for disorderly conduct, should they refuse to leave Mr. Bush’s line of sight. Speech was free as long as it was in harmony with the administration. Note to the TP: this was done at tax-payer expense. Was it a good use of taxpayer money?

A headline in the local paper today proclaims that an ethics investigation has been launched into two professors at Texas A&M University for public opposition to allowing firearms in classrooms (The Eagle). The pair, who serve on the faculty senate, were attempting to promote a debate in that body about allowing concealed weapons on campus. The ethics investigation questions whether they were attempting to influence legislation, which is against the rules. Similar statements from members of the University of Texas system went unchallenged. However at A&M, the Chancellor is a concealed-carry permittee and former staff member of Governor “Shoot ‘em Up” Perry, who jogs with a 9-mm handgun at his side. For those who dislike innuendo, more clearly stated: Perry is a gun-toting NRA booster who benefitted from NRA campaign advertising and endorsements. Where his minions are in charge, public speech is free if it agrees with his radical-right views. Dear TP: more of your tax dollars in action; are they being wasted?

Reading about the troubles over collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin, a Google Ad-words server fed this tidbit to my screen, “Unfair Union Practices: Sign our petition to ban political contributions by public unions.” Citizens United can collect money from anyone at all, disburse it in such a way as to buy elections without revealing the names of those donors, and this practice is “free speech.” However, if members of AFSCME want to spend money on political campaigns to keep union-busters out of office, it becomes an “unfair union practice.” The shoe rubs raw when placed on the other foot, apparently.

When an analyst said that public employee unions should not have the right to spend money on political campaigns because these unions favored Democrats (who, incidentally tend not to try to destroy them) on NPR, his statements went unchallenged. But the House of Representatives, now squarely in the hands of the radical right, is sure that funding NPR is a bad use of public money, because NPR is “biased.” In this case, a translation from right-speak to English is in order. Biased here means “biased in favor of facts.” Facts, as most progressives know, are the enemy of the radical right, and those who insist on discussing them find themselves in disfavor.

The trouble with this latest brand of free speech is that only those with the most money get any free speech. If a group can raise enough money to buy an election, it becomes an “owner” in this system; it then has the ascendant view and can promote that view with impunity. The contents of the view do not matter; pro-choice, anti-labor, against defense spending, for free trade. Those stakeholders who disagree with the owners simply do not get heard, and worse, are censured if they insist on being heard. Indeed, private conversation is not affected, but who cares about private conversation?

Taking money out of the system is the only way to fix it. Absolutely equalize the amount of money spent by requiring that all campaigning be done at public expense. This solution will result in cries of foul, but the real foul play was the Citizens’ United ruling, and it has effectively disenfranchised the American people.

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About Me

I love my country, that is why I criticize its absurdities; I love my freedom, that is why I do it publicly.