Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Greenbacks, Ballots, and BS


Dear Justice Scalia:

In late July, 2012, C-Span released film of you, declaring that “people are intelligent and can discern the true from the false . . . when [they] know who’s speaking.” I’m not sure you’re right, Sir. After all, in 2003, intelligent people, including members of Congress, leaders of many allied nations, cable news reporters, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and ordinary citizens, failed to “discern the true from the false” when free expression persuaded the United States to smite Iraq in a preemptive strike. Before the deaf ears and blind eyes of supposedly alert, watchful, and intelligent people, the Bush administration ordered a reign of terror upon Iraq; we killed 162,000 soldiers on both sides insurgents, ordinary citizens, civilian personnel, and children because no one could “discern the true from the false.” Someone yelled “WMD,” the equivalent of shouting “Fire” in a crowded theater, and 162,000 died.

On the Piers Morgan program (CNN), also in July 2012, you, Mr. Scalia, reiterated the First Amendment privileges of this nation and assured the listening audience that Thomas Jefferson, whom you greatly admire, would agree with you in asserting that “the more speech the better.” You added in answer to Mr. Morgan’s question about the Citizens United decision that no one can “separate the speech from the money that facilitates the speech.”

I wasn’t sure about that claim until I realized that humans make manifest their thoughts in not only words but also in actions. For example, my thoughts on ice cream and frozen yogurt are well-known to anyone who knows the contents of my freezer or anything about my buying habits. So it follows that the products I consume and purchase are extensions of my inner-most thoughts, and I confess that my thoughts get me into trouble often. It’s just not healthy to be preoccupied with ice cream; it’s especially unhealthy to consume too much ice cream.

This realization led me to reflect upon what limits should be set for free expression. We already know that no one can shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater and jeopardize life, but should the Nazi party march and speak in Skokie, IL, home to the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, or should historical precedent lead reasonable men and women to conclude that the Nazi party’s intentions and actions could derive from hatred? If so, then surely we should censor the Nazis. We should disallow their march, suppress their speech, and curtail any potential and probable violence stemming from hate speech.

But we didn’t. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Illinois State Supreme Court, using the First Amendment as legal precedent, upheld the Nazi party’s right to speak. Indeed, subsequent U. S. Supreme Court decisions have consistently upheld the rights to free speech regardless of potential, even probable, harm.

Here, a man can not only speak the anti-Semitic sentiments of a repressive, brutal tyranny by wearing the uniform of the Nazi party in Illinois, he can also burn Old Glory, declare that the fire is communication, and go free. He can take up arms, declare them his Constitutionally protected right, stand his ground, and go free after having expressed his thoughts about fellow men, personal space, and sharing property with at least one bullet. He can also exercise his intelligence; walk into the voting booth, proper identification in hand according to the whims of his location; and speak through the ballot. Or he can walk door to door and share his political opinions, and he can underwrite the cost of propaganda in an effort to persuade the electorate. This last exercise of free speech, the one involving money, worries me.

With the Citizens United decision, vast sums of money can be brought to bear upon political outcomes. The trouble is that those behind the monetized political speech are virtually anonymous, especially if they donate to a 501 C 4. Only the IRS knows the identities of those donors; the rest of us intelligent folk cannot “discern the true from the false” because we don’t know whose voice sends the message. We don’t know whether his thoughts are full of hate or good intentions for the nation. All we know with any degree of certainty is that millions are going hither and yon for campaign advertising in this 2012 election, and we know that money, filthy lucre, gold, silver, greenbacks--or just the promise of it--has a corrupting influence.

From a love of money sprouts evil. So says the Bible as well as tales written by Chaucer, Shakespeare, and John Lanchester in Capital. From a love of money sprout disinformation, misinformation, distortion, and lie as donors try to gain political advantages and power. Yet the authors of those messages are shadowy because Citizens United, as implemented, does not require that individual donor names become part of the message until after the election has taken place and in the case of 501 C 4s, those donor names will never be known. They can sling and spin words to their advantage, often distorting and twisting events and facts until they no longer resemble the truth. Intelligent people cannot “discern the true from the false” because there are so many versions of a truth blowing in the wind, their authors unknown.

So, Justice Scalia, if speech is money and money is speech, as you assert, and if it’s become nearly impossible to learn from whom the speech comes, then I suggest that we simplify the process of electing representatives to local, state and national offices. We should make a clear broth instead of lumpy, opaque soups, and we can: by eliminating middle men, including SuperPacs, 501 C 4s, think tanks, 24/7 cable news, and policy wonks.

Let us return to simpler times like those we lived when candidates ran for office in public schools and skipped class time on task while distributing pencils, Hershey’s kisses, and erasers. In those elections, the quantity and quality of Get Out the Vote tokens; i.e., money, determined outcomes. It’s human nature to be favorably persuaded by those who favor us with treats. But current Citizens United practices and policies run counter to such tangible, direct means of persuasion so let’s eliminate visual and verbal messages spun from anonymous agencies and agents. Just leave it to me, my hand extended to receive Get Out the Vote tokens.

Let all those aspirants to higher office continue to put their thoughts into action. Let them express themselves by making their desires for my vote real. Give me ice cream or cake--although, I warn you, according to legend, cake did not work out well for Queen Marie. Give me a job, not the promise of one if I support you, but a real one with paychecks in hand and a contract that cannot be voided if and when Bain buys out my employer. And while you’re at it, raise the minimum wage and make it a four-day work week. Pay off my mortgage so I can send my kid to college. Better yet, pay my kid’s tuition, room and board included. Make me believe that you love me, but I don’t need to be courted or schmoozed. Just dazzle me, darling candidates, because diamonds really are a girl’s best friend.

See Justice Scalia? My solution simplifies the mess we’re in because it is a system that we know; indeed, it is a system already in place in the form of government subsidies, tax breaks, tax incentives, new bridges, improved roads, or commemorative statues, plaques, and buildings. It’s just that the little guy rarely receives those incentives directly, but I assure you, I can be trusted to turn my vote to personal advantage. I will, in fact, vote with my pocketbook, not my heart, I swear.

I’ll prove your case that money is speech. I’ll go along. I’ll get on board as long as money greases my own slippery palm and not someone else’s. I promise to stop using phrases like conservative activist judges if you rule in my favor. I might even send you a chunk of the change I receive if you’ll just promise to be on the side of the little guy in need, the one trying to discern the false from the true.