The Cowardly Lions of ‘Free Speech’

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In all the hullabaloo over the Supreme Court’s decision on health care, another of its rulings quickly fell off the public radar. Before deciding the fate of the Affordable Care Act, the Court announced it would not reconsider Citizens United, the odious 5-4 decision two years ago that opened our elections to unlimited contributions.

Within minutes of that announcement, right-wing partisans were crowing about the advantage they now own, an advantage not due to ideas or personalities but to the sheer force of money. They were remarkably candid and specific.

Here’s what Fred Barnes wrote in The Weekly Standard about the Senate race in Missouri:

For three weeks in May, Republican super-PACs took turns attacking Democratic senator Claire McCaskill in TV ads. Republicans hadn’t held their primary — it’s not until August 7 — but McCaskill wound up trailing all three of the GOP candidates in polls. Now McCaskill, unnerved, is struggling to recover… That’s what super-PACs can do. When they emerged in 2010 and worked in tandem, they were a critical force in the Republican landslide in the congressional elections. This year they’re playing an even bigger role. The size and reach of their efforts dwarf what they did two years ago.

Attaboy, Fred, for telling it like it is, for exposing the hoax that the Court’s original decision was about “free” speech. No, it’s about carpet bombing elections with all the tonnage your rich paymasters want to buy.

Try not to laugh when you hear one of its perpetrators, the noted lawyer Floyd Abrams, say, as he did not too long ago:

“I don’t think we should want as a matter of policy, to make decisions which are essentially, people can’t do all the speaking that they can in a political campaign. I don’t think we can ration speech.”

Speech already is rationed. On your playing field, Messieurs Barnes and Abrams, those who have no money have no speech. And just who do you think is doing this “speaking?” Poor people haven’t lost their voice — they can’t afford a voice. Everyday working people suffer from universal laryngitis, brought on by the absence of money. As for children — children who have a big stake in our elections but no vote, forget it — for them to be heard they would need piggy banks the size of Walmart heirs. Or the Koch brothers for uncles.

And if it’s free speech the Deep Pockets are practicing and touting, why are you ashamed of it? If free speech is a right, why all the secrecy? Why hide from voters where the money is coming from? Why not openly say you are downright proud to be exercising their First Amendment rights and writing checks is your patriotic duty?

Instead, conservatives across the country are fighting legal battles to keep their sugar daddies secret. Why? According to their guardian angel in Congress — the highly leveraged Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — the right wing opposes disclosure laws because the super-rich just might be bullied and harassed by the rest of us who want to know who’s buying our elections.

So the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal asks us to have pity on billionaires and those little ol’ corporations and their CEOs who just might have their tender feelings hurt; exposed to boycotts and pickets if it was known which candidates they were buying.

But wait a minute. Weren’t we taught the First Amendment also guarantees the right of every citizen to assemble and petition, even to boycott and picket?

That’s what a couple of hundred protesters were doing just the other day. They marched to the D.C. offices of American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, those right wing money mills run by the mastermind of so much of this massive fundraising, Karl Rove. He’s making a bundle buying and selling “Free Speech,” while at the same time deploring the disclosure of big donors’ names as “shameful” intimidation!

Exercising their First Amendment rights, the demonstrators taped a kind of wanted poster on Rove’s office door, indicating they would like to see him wearing an orange prison jumpsuit. Instead, he could be seen in casual wear, buzzing around in a golf cart at Mitt Romney’s Utah mountain gathering of high rollers. No doubt plotting how to raise more millions to pay for more “free speech.”

So let’s see if we’ve got this right: On the one hand, conservatives declare that corporations and the super-rich can spend all they want on exercising their First Amendment rights, but on the other, they demand to keep it secret so the rest of us can’t exercise our First Amendment rights to fight back. Have you ever heard of more cowardly lions?

It’s one big joke. Big enough to make you cry. Three things don’t go together: Money. Secrecy. Democracy. That’s the nub of the matter. This is all a sham for invalidating democracy in the name of democracy. It’s the trick authoritarians always use to hide their real intentions, which in this case is absolute power over our public life and institutions: the privatization of everything.

The Supreme Court is pointing the way. Instead of mitigating the worst excesses of both the state and the private sector, with Citizens United and the latest decision affirming it, the Court has taken sides — saying to the massed wealth of the one percent: America is yours for the taking, for the buying. Help yourself.

That’s what George III thought, too, which brings us back to our celebration of the 4th of July, to the Declaration of Independence and Thomas Jefferson, who seems to have thought that a little uprising now and then would be good for what ails us. This time the overweening power is not monarchy but plutocracy, the convergence of the political, religious and corporate right that would keep us in the dark about where all that money is coming from, and who it’s buying, until one day we wake up and our country is no longer our own.

Fortunately, those orange jump suits come in one size fits all. So remember, moneyed lords and ladies, what King George learned the hard way — you can only push your subjects so far.

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  • Richard

    I truly appreciated your commentary. It is accurate and hard hitting, something that is nearly always missing from moderate discussions of the issues today. The middle majority in our country is often accurate but not firmly to the point and they simply often are not heard. The right wing minority, on the other hand, is so often inaccurate and misleading but are so loud and aggressive that they often rule the day over those speaking with knowledge and reason. I fear for the future of my children’s country and world. The combination of obstacles we face in overpopulation, global warming and the marriage of political and financial skulduggery are unlike any humanity has ever faced and effective solutions will require immediate and decisive actions yet it is rare when such an alarm is even heard in a public forum. Is the plutocracy so blinded by arrogance that they don’t realize that the coming fall threatens them and theirs too? How can we get the message to the American populace and how can we get them to listen and act when the dual elixirs of religious diatribe and money for misleading advertising obfuscate and confuse so many? I fear that mass understanding will come too late for meaningful correction and that the masses will respond with rebellion, carnage and the end of our democracy. Thank you.

  • Brux

    This is the Bill Moyers I seem to remember, and I am glad to see him back with a very good to the point piece.  The technology of noise is just so powerful that a overbearing corporate voice and lots of noise and distraction really does work to create 1985 and we have to be very serious about opposing it or we are done for.  Thanks Bill.

  • Bcameron43

    It seems obvious that using the electorial system to regain fairness in the US is a waste of time. CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE is what you need now as your latest guest said.  Funny story: according to the European Journal (middle of the night on PBS) the Czech Republic apparently has a lot of corruption. So some clever young people have started corruption tours which are very popular. The US should start something like this in Washing D.C. 

  • Johnp31058

    think for telling us the true news