When did America's political Left become the sworn enemy of free speech?
Was it in the 1990s, when UW-Madison, having fended off Joe McCarthy, then succumbed to the enemy within, its liberal professoriate, by enacting a politically correct faculty speech code that punished unpopular opinions? (Harvard civil liberties lawyer Alan Dershowitz would come to denounce it as "the worst speech code in the country.")
Now the professional Left, as White House spokesman Robert Gibbs calls them, have raised the stakes by taking dead aim at the First Amendment itself. They actually want to amend the First Amendment -- the first tinkering of the Bill of Rights in 223 years.
Madison, that bastion of Left progressivism, is a hotbed of efforts to eviscerate the First Amendment, that most sacred of constitutional guarantees.
Capital Times associate editor John Nichols is one of the ringleaders in the crusade to stanch the free flow of information. That is an odd stance -- for someone who makes his living off the First Amendment and enjoys its protections. Some would call it cynical.
The asterisk Nichols seeks to attach to the Free Speech clause would overturnthe Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission.
This was the decision rendered early this year that ruled that Hillary: the Movie could not be banned from public viewing in the lead-up to an election and so overturned a key part of the misguided McCain-Feingold campaign "reform."
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority: "When government seeks to use its full power, including the criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information or what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control thought. The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves."
Free speech opponents have organized hereabouts as the South Central Wisconsin Move To Amend, part of the national Move to Amend. The local group is trying to engineer a referendum for the Madison ballot this Spring.
John, who is also an editor at the venerable lefty weekly, The Nation, this week called on Congress "to amend the Constitution to fight corporate power." [Capital Times: 08-24-2010]
Chief Justice Roberts neatly demolished that theory in his Citizens United concurrence:
The Government ... asks us to embrace a theory of the First Amendment that would allow censorship not only of television and radio broadcasts, but of pamphlets, posters, the Internet, and virtually any other medium that corporations and unions might find useful in expressing their views on matters of public concern. Its theory, if accepted, would empower the Government to prohibit newspapers from running editorials or opinion pieces supporting or opposing candidates for office, so long as the newspapers were owned by corporations - as the major ones are.
"And unions"? That's right, and labor unions.
Birds of a feather
I missed the anti-First Amendment symposium held in Madison April 16 at the UW Law School hosted and sponsored by, among others, Student Progressive Dane, the National Lawyers Guild, and the Liberty Tree Foundation. Oh, and don't forget: the Havens Center. Speakers included Mike McCabe of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, Matt Rothschild of The Progressive (who calls Citizens United "the worst decision since Dred Scott"), former attorney general Peg Lautenschlager, Ben Manski of Liberty Tree, and Comrade Nichols! See for yourself!
Another cripple the Constitution event is scheduled for the Capitol Square today (Friday, August 27).
The Ben Manski who is executive director of Liberty Tree is the same firebrand who is running on the Green Party ticket in Madison's 77th Assembly district, Spencer Black's old seat. Madison Teachers Inc. has apparently endorsed Manski weeks ahead of the five-way Democrat(ic) primary. The endorsement says a lot about the fever swamp now inhabited by Madison's unionized teachers.
John Nichols writes that MTI's endorsement of Green Party's Ben Manski is a very big deal.
What John Nichols fails to disclose is that, as president of the Liberty Tree Foundation, he is Mr. (and, apparently, Mrs.) Manski's employer. It's a good thing John is not subject to the same campaign disclosure laws as the candidates or those of us who contribute to them, or he would be accused of a violation. That's ironic -- and a bit cynical.
The decision, Citizens United v. FEC (08-205), is worth reading for yourself. The First Amendment is worth preserving as is.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
We are all journalists
What John will not admit is that we are all, every one of us, journalists. No one has more First Amendment protections than the next, whether we speak as individuals or as members of a voluntary organization, whether it be a labor union, civic betterment club, or employer.
Certainly not in the age of Facebook, Tweets and Twitters.
Justice Kennedy nailed it: "Our nation's speech dynamic is changing, and informative voices should not have to circumvent onerous restrictions to exercise their First Amendment rights. The censorship we now confront is vast in its reach."
Only last week the state Supreme Court enjoined the Government (un)Accountability Board, appointed by Democrat(ic) Gov. Jim E. Doyle, from enforcing anti-speech rules that, as Jim Troupis' brief filed on behalf of the Wisconsin Prosperity Network et al argued:
will require that non-profit groups, unincorporated associations and individuals completely halt participation in ongoing public affairs or be prosecuted. ... redefines common discussions on the internet, in letters and fliers, in reports and studies, as a communication for political purposes. Then, as newly minted "political communications," the regulation requires the payment of a fee for the right to speak, requires filing of reports, requires disclaimers, requires additional advance reporting, requires after-the-fact oaths on what was said, and even requires notices to a government agency within 24 hours.
The full force of government enforcement, fines and jail, follow if one fails to comply. The impact of this regulation is breathtakingly broad and bars every aspect of communication from a farmer who may paint a sign of protest on his barn to an organization publishing a comprehensive study on state finance. It will bar simple e-mail communication among individuals so long as they have paid more than $25 for their internet connection, if that communication describes the public stand of a candidate, and it will prosecute groups meeting on a street corner if the cost of the soapbox exceeds $25.
Here is the odd thing: who says corporations are politically monolithic? Millionaire capitalists like Jon Corzine, Herb Kohl, Tim Geithner, George Soroos, Punch Sulzberger, Donald Graham, Judith Faulkner, and Terry Kelly are hardly conservative. Except maybe when compared to Ben Manski and John Nichols.
The latter even calls MoveOn.org "soft."
That is why I call some people "hard Left."