“Censorship” is one of the dirtiest words in the liberal lexicon; one of the worst crimes. Liberals hate it so, they often scream “Censorship!” when it isn’t even happening (like a library opting not to buy a certain book).
So what explains the outrage at the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision? Which, after all, held that the government couldn’t censor a political film, merely because of some corporate contributions. So the First Amendment’s free speech guarantee means no one can be stopped from political advocacy. Not even businesses.
But liberals actually have a special understanding of the word “censorship.” It means restricting expressions they approve of. They believe in free speech for themselves. Thus we get the political correctness Thought Police on campuses, where the mantra of “academic freedom” applies only to approved viewpoints, while dissenting voices are delegitimized, persecuted, and silenced.
Yet remember how the left sacralized the word “dissent”? They even have a magazine flaunting that title. But they love dissent only from orthodoxies they oppose; dissent from their own orthodoxies gets no protection. Lawrence Summers was actually ousted as Harvard’s president for merely suggesting that one point in the politically correct catechism might be questioned. (And truthiness didn’t save him.) So much for academic freedom.
Behind all this is the ugly tendency to believe opposing viewpoints reflect not merely bad ideas but bad motives. When you think the other guy is not just wrong but evil, it’s but a short step to the fire. Let’s not forget how many people throughout history were literally burned alive for dissent from prevailing orthodoxies. The burners too thought they were justifiably dealing with evil. And in many Muslim nations “heresy” still carries the death penalty.
Voltaire supposedly said, “I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.” Today’s liberals just might take him up on that.
Back to Citizens United, the principle is a good one. Whether corporations are “people” or not, they are legitimate parts of society, have legitimate interests, and legitimate rights. This should surely include freedom of speech and participation in political debate (which of course their opposite number, labor unions, have always had).
The concern is that they’ll ruin democracy by buying elections. But you can’t “buy” elections. Money can get your message heard, but if voters don’t swallow it, you lose. Numerous candidates have spent fortunes and lost (like Michael Huffington, Arianna’s ex, who blew zillions on a Senate bid and was creamed).
The fact is, there’s only so much money you can spend on a campaign to good effect. An ad’s fiftieth airing won’t seduce voters; it will more likely annoy them.
And while it might be a problem if all the money were spent by one side, that’s hardly the case. The two main parties are fairly even in this regard; they neutralize each other in raising and spending money. And the amounts are not “obscene.” The billion or two spent on the presidential election is merely comparable to what L’Oreal spends advertising hair coloring. Choosing the world’s top leader is at least as important.
True, the need to beg bucks from powerful interests has corrupted politicians – long before Citizens United. However, the remedy shouldn’t be restricting political participation but expanding it. There should be a tax credit for campaign contributions (up to, say, $100). That would unleash a flood of citizen donations and wash out the importance of fat-cat cash. This would be a form of public campaign finance far preferable to any existing scheme. The cost to taxpayers would be more than made up (way more) by less special interest legislation. (Why don’t we hear more about this simple reform? Officeholders are afraid to change a system that, for all its flaws, gets them mostly re-elected.)
But meantime, democracy is threatened far less by corporate free speech than by the idea of government power to squelch it.
* To quote Mao – a nod to my commie readers. Of course, when those flowers of divergent opinion bloomed, a lot of the bloomers were thrown in prison.