Monday, October 18, 2010

Should Big Brother Ration Speech??

Speech Rations are DOWN!

In a characteristically superb Op-Ed, "The Democratic Version of Big Brother," George Will takes on Progressive efforts, now led by President Obama, to micro-manage political speech. Will reminds us of various Progressive-imposed "annoyances," including the 55 MPH speed limit, national ban on the incandescent light bulb (replaced, I might add, by one brimming with poisonous mercury (sorry Thomas Edison!), and suppression of showerheads that produce more water per minute than Washington bureaucrats can tolerate.

Will analogizes these Progressive initiatives to so-called "campaign finance reform," a 1970s project hereby the National Government "regulat[es] the quantity, timing and content of speech about government." During this election cycle, he says, political candidates for all offices in the United States, from local clerks to U.S. Senators, will spend a grand total of $4.2 billion on various forms of electioneering --- less than one half of the annual advertising budget of Procter and Gamble and more than Americans spend annually on yogurt. Apparently Will believes that it's actually healthy for Americans and organizations to which they belong to participate in the electoral process by, among other things,

"Those who are determined to reduce the quantity of political speech to what they consider the proper amount are the sort of people who know exactly how much water should come through our shower heads (no more than 2.5 gallons per minute, as stipulated by a 1992 law). Is it, however, really worrisome that Americans spend on political advocacy -- on determining who should make and administer the laws -- much less than they spend on potato chips ($7.1 billion a year)?"

Finally, Will calls out President Obama for his misleading attacks on the Chamber of Commerce, an organization, I might add, made up of over three million businesses, nearly all of them with 100 employees or fewer. As Will points out, the President of the United States has claimed, without adducing any evidence, that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is spending money raised from foreign contributors, a charge the Chamber has vehemently denied. While baseless attacks are "par for the course" in our political culture, it's unfortunate to hear such attacks from a President who promised to change the tone in Washington and bring people together. Perhaps his advisors misinformed him about the source of the case paying for the Chamber's high value political speech.

Let me add two points to Will's cogent analysis.

First, it is ironic to say the least that Progressives, including President Obama, would complain about "too much money in politics." Then-Senator Obama promised to work with John McCain to ensure that both would take public financing during the general presidential election and thereby limit the additional amount he could raise from contributors. He then broke that promise, when it became clear that he could raise more money than his opponent, making no real effort to work out an agreement with Senator McCain. As a result, President Obama raised a total of $745 million to support his 2008 run for President, more than twice as much as John McCain and more than all the candidates for President in 2004 combined. Most Progressives seemed perfectly happy to see President Obama raise as much money as possible when necessary to outspend his opponents, even breaking his own promises to do so, but then cry "foul" when their opponents might beat them at their own game.

Second, the misleading attack on the Chamber of Commerce is analogous to the larger effort by Progressives to discredit and villify free speech by corporations and the shareholders who own them. As previously reported on this blog, President Obama misstated the holding of Citizens United and also mischaracterized the history of the caselaw leading up to that decision. Among other things, he claimed, incorrectly, that the Citizens United Court had held that foreign corporations have a right to speak in connection with American elections, even though this issue was not before the Court.