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Archive for the ‘Free Speech’ Category

I’ve almost always been opposed to any limits on campaign spending, campaign contributions, or spending by single-issue advocacy groups, nor am I fond of most of the other power-preservation techniques the media-coastal elite promote as “campaign finance reform.”  That said, having lived in Illinois, I do know that it matters if the few guys that contribute to the campaign of a senator or governor miraculously also get all kinds of government contracts, sinecure power-sharing jobs, and the like.  In other words, some disclosure of spending to politicians may be warranted to detect corruption associated certain kinds of lobbying.

I would make distinctions between spending tied to personal financial gain and those tied to the concerns of the broader community.  Surely, political action and spending activity is on a bit of a continuum.  On one extreme, are purely ideological groups like the NRA and the ACLU.  On the other are the Aluminum Manufacturers Association or the National Association of Home Builders.   Perhaps a third group would be groups like AIPAC or the Serbian Unity Congress that have formal and informal ties with foreign powers.   More middling groups would be organizations like the AMA or the AARP.  The latter seek goods for their members, but those members are sufficiently disbursed among the community to have at least some arguable claim on the public interest.

One problem with reporting political donations is that groups fighting for purely ideological goods are lumped in with groups engaged in naked rent-seeking.  In California, this reporting requirement has led to particularly ugly outcomes, as otherwise anonymous opponents of gay marriage have been harassed, boycotted, and unable quietly to support a cause they believe in.  A website has even popped up to show anyone and everyone the opponents’ home addresses.

Those who contribute to political causes are a distinct minority in society.  They exercise disproportionate power.  It’s appropriate that corruption be detected and avoided, and thus ordinary political donations above a certain amount probably should be reported, but beyond this requirement most of the the campaign finance rules are noxious, tending to empower incumbents and the mainstream media above organized pluralities of decentralized citizens.  Even distinguishing one lobbying from another carries with it certain risks, as groups on the margins like AIPAC or the AARP are clearly in the middle of the spectrum of rent-seeking and purely ideological political activity, and any set of rules should probably err on the side of nondisclosure.

In no sensible world, however, should Americans be required to condition their First Amendment right to anonymous speech, including the “speech” of supporting political causes, on the risks of harassment by violent opponents, such as certain cadres of gay marriage supporters in the counter-cultural cesspool that is California.  Far from ending corruption, this leads to a new kind of corruption, the corruption of private violence against those with popular or at least defensible views from organized and recalcitrant factions.

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Barack Obama, like so many demagogues with a surrounding cult of personality, is now taking things surprisingly far, particularly as he has not yet won this election. He has enlisted law enforcement in Missouri to create a Barack Obama truth squad who will prosecute anyone who “lies” about Obama. The civil law of defamation and slander is apparently not enough for him, nor is it enough apparently for the Missouri law enforcement folks to at least give themselves a neutral label.

Obama is already in a bit of hot water for having his associates inundate news and radio outlets that host critics of Obama on the air, as if news is obligated not to criticize him.

This guy’s arrogance nearly cost him the primary. Middle of the road, working class, and elderly voters seem less impressed than young people and educated white liberals by his smooth talking schtick, seeing instead a guy with few accomplishments and a very exaggerrated sense of entitlement. (By way of example, in his debates with McCain, he said “As President” several times, rather than “if I’m given the privilege to be President . . .”)

This is actually scary stuff. Liberals have spent the last four years making both reasonable and unreasonable criticisms of the expansion of presidential power through items such as the Patriot Act and the Total Information Awareness project. Coupled with McCain-Feingold, Presidential power can easily be abused to alter an election. It’s something Bush has not done, to his credit. But can the Chicago machine politician wrapped up in the labeling of an ethical reformer promise the same? It’s hard to imagine this cynical guy who attached himself to some of the most unsavory people around–Tony Rezko, Jeremiath Wright, Bill Ayers–in a city famous for its corruption would not abuse presidential power in the form of various degrees of censorship for the narrow purpose of helping himself and his associates.

Political speech is at the core of First Amendment protections. It has long been safe from “prior restraint” and surrounded with broad protections, particularly in debatable questions of opinion and mixed questions of opinion and fact. It appears some overzelaous law enforcement perssonnel are going to shield Obama from the most anodyne criticisms under the rubric of combatting lies. Historically, the good sense of the American people, the news media, and the campaigns themselves performed this function.

What now will happen when people say Obama has associated with terrorists (he has) or visited Pakistan as a young man (he did) or went to a church that spewed anti-American hatred for twenty years (he did that too). Will these facts be labeled lies? Will the zealousness of his enthralled supporters undermine one of the most important American rights in the name of combatting hate and rumors? Obama’s rhetoric is the language of censorship nearly everywhere: it’s always cited as necessary to stop corruption and agitation. It’s the language of Huge Chavez and Valdimir Lenin alike.

Bush’s exercises of power are subject to a great deal of skepticism and media criticism, as well as resistance from his own party. This is overall a good thing. Who, however, will resist Obama when his favorite charge–racism–will be levied so promiscuously at those frail creatures of the media and the cultural elite, and elite which is easily stopped in its tracks by the very suggestion?

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In Canada, Europe, and elsewhere there is a steady decline in free speech.  Like many other assaults on freedom–the welfare state, affirmative action–this is an assault perpetrated in the name of equality.  In the Jena Six incident in Louisiana, it was disturbing to hear so many Americans, black and white, calling for criminal investigations of young boys for a mischievous, if tasteless, presentation of nooses in school.  The new face of oppression, like the old one, will come with smiles, it will be here “for our own good,” and its functionaries will remind us they’re doing this only so that we can all get along.

Without getting into all the nuances, all conservatives should agree that the “hate speech” trend is one that will suffocate the crown jewel of European and North American civilization:  free debate, free inquiry, idiosyncratic individualism, and a commitment to truth.  The exchange below is chilling, not least because the inquisitor is so bland, like a human resources specialist that can also throw you in jail. 

Some Canadian Muslims complained about the publication of satirical cartoons portraying the prophet Mohammed.  Canada obligingly has investigated the publisher.  Ezra Levant, the freedom-loving publisher of a Canadian newspaper, explains what should be obvious to the politically correct functionary with all of the passion that this issue deserves.

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One noticeable trend among various blogs and media sources discussing the Jena Six incident is the declining respect for free speech principles among many Americans. While many liberal-minded observers were concerned when a disruptive speaker at a John Kerry event was forcibly arrested, many of these same folks have reflexively reacted to racist speech in Jena by asking how it can be criminally prosecuted. Now, such speech has little value. I also agree that there comes a point where things like cross burnings and nooses can be considered terrorist threats. But hate speech itself, without some showing that there is a credible threat, is clearly protected under the First Amendment. First Amendment law does not countenance “content based” classifications of prohibited speech. Outside of very narrow circumstances, speech should be considered protected no matter how offensive.

The “slippery slope” is European-style anti-racism laws, where innocuous and nonthreatening criticisms of immigrant criminality and Muslim extremism, among other things, have led to criminal prosecution. Such varied figures as David Irving and Bridget Bardot have been caught within their grasp. Such laws contain all the problems ordinarily attributed to censorship: straight-jacketing of thought, arbitrary and selective prosecutions, and giving the government (and its majority) the power to suppress dissent.

But the question is not just one of law but also one of culture. As Americans, we used to understand instinctually that some people won’t like you, that free speech laws demand a free speech culture, and that the best response to offensive speech was not criminal prosecutions and veiled threats of violence–i.e., “No Justice, No Peace”. Rather, a free speech culture demands in response to offensive content more speech explaining, refuting, and ostracizing those who are wrong-headed or evil-minded or both. The times are changing. The widespread Marxism of our higher education system and its rhetoric of systematic oppression have pervaded the culture. Liberalism has fully subordinated liberty to equality. And equality itself has been subordinated to the Marxist principle of class justice, reparations, and the other rubrics of social revolution. This trend is entirely un-American and far more pervasive and dangerous than the death gasps of white supremacists in the Deep South.

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