The Moment of Truth — January 23, 2010

Free Speech For Sale!

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The Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission caused quite a commotion the other day. In the majority and concurring opinions, the court found that five out of nine of them could not distinguish between a corporation and a human individual. They also declared their inability to tell the difference between news media and any other kind of product, such as poisonous baby formula, between foreign powers and domestic citizens, and between freedom of speech and bribery. According to Justice Stevens’s dissenting opinion, the majority also failed to understand that their ridicule of reality was no substitute for reality itself.

Thanks to their incompetence, we now live in a world of metaphors, where all influence is equally valid. We once worried about influence peddling and conflicts of interest. Not anymore. Speech can certainly serve as support for a candidate, and money can also serve as support for a candidate. Ergo, speech and money are identical.

I do agree with the majority on one point. As the majority quotes from the dissent in the very decision it overturned, “The only reason to cast a vote for, or to make a contribution to, one candidate over another is that the candidate will respond by producing those political outcomes the supporter favors. Democracy is premised on responsiveness.”

This is true. You support candidates because they are going to do what you want them to do. Or at least because they claim they will. The interesting thing about money is, the more you contribute, the more likely a candidate is to deliver on his or her claims. Since responsiveness is the essence of democracy, democracy works best when it’s made out of money. Money is nothing more than very effective speech.

Just because a corporation can speak more effectively than a citizen of modest means is no reason to punish the corporation. Quite the contrary. The corporation should be applauded for making elected officials responsive.

One thing we know the framers of the Constitution worried about was foreign influence over government. But why? Because they had “a fear that foreign powers and individuals had no basic investment in the well-being of the country,” Stevens quotes in a footnote, adding ‘that a corporation might be analogized to a foreign power in this respect, “inasmuch as its legal loyalties necessarily exclude patriotism.”’

In other words, corporations are like foreign powers because their allegiance is to profit and growth, to themselves as powers unto themselves. Stevens even quotes from a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote expressing the hope that the power of “monied corporations” could be reigned in since they were already daring to challenge the power of the government and defying the law.

But that’s the dissenting opinion. The majority understands that it’s impossible to distinguish between the influence of a voter and that of a oil company. And when it comes down to it, if we can’t tell the difference between money and speech, and foreign powers from citizens, there’s really no point in making laws to prevent undue influence at all. That’s pretty much what the majority opinion says. It’s just too hard to tell the difference between slightly similar objects and actions, so it’s best not to try because you might do something unconstitutional.

The majority alludes to a book called, “Unfree Speech: the Folly of Campaign Finance Reform,” and the majority justices seem to have derived much of their ability to confuse themselves from this book and similar caricatures of logic, such as those presented on Fox News Channel. But I’m way ahead of them. I’ve been confused about campaign finance reform since I first heard the term.

Why pick on campaign contributions? There are so many other ways super-wealthy corporations exert destructive control in our society and prevent the people or the government from doing much about it. If you really want to prevent money from distorting democracy, you have to reform capitalism. But no one’s going to do that. Not anyone in government, anyway. They’ve got too much money and power involved in capitalism in its current form.

I think it’s Scalia in his extremely silly concurring opinion who talks about how easy it is for organizations with enough money to get around campaign finance laws. His point is that, if a law is easy to break or subvert, why have the law at all? You know, like the law against murder, which clearly doesn’t work. People find a way around that law all the time, sneaking through loopholes to kill other people.

It’s only a matter of time before we realize that all laws are useless according to this logic. What’s surprising is that the Supreme Court would come up with a view of law that will eventually make them a completely worthless entity. But I guess that’s just part of the neo-conservative program of discrediting government by destroying it from the inside. Usually this is accomplished by appointing incompetent persons to head departments of the executive branch, but there’s no reason the judicial branch couldn’t be discredited through the same means.

There is no question in my mind that large corporations can get around any law they choose, for the most part, so campaign finance reform is an exercise in futility. Those who don’t care that Dick Cheney made hundreds of millions of dollars for his corporate friends by starting the second Iraq war will never care that this or that insurance company gave a few paltry millions to the legislators who are now doing their best not to reform health insurance. Contributing to candidates is truly a very tiny problem compared to the other ways corporations dominating huge industries have taken control of our government, media, and everything else.

We individual citizens of the United States of America have very few defenses against these ridiculously huge powerhouses of the US and world economies. The courts used to be one of those defenses, the Supreme Court most of all, but those tools never worked that well anyway so maybe it’s better that we now know for sure we can’t rely on them.

It’s good to be certain that campaign finance reform is no defense against domination of the USA by foreign powers and analogous corporations, many of whose designations as “US” corporations rest on the flimsiest of premises. They’re called transnationals or multinationals for a reason: they have no loyalty to any nation. Their loyalty is to profit only. And if they can recruit public officials to serve their purposes, well, until we start holding such obvious examples of conflict of interest, as in the case of Dick Cheney, to be treasonous, then it’s just going to be democracy as usual.

But what is a nation, anyway? Isn’t a nation just a big state? And aren’t states just big cities? And aren’t cities just big families? And if someone in the family is really strong, is it somehow undemocratic for that family member to push all the other family members around, eat all their food, dump poison all over the house, leave the others destitute, and then move on to another family to do the same thing? That’s not undemocratic, that’s just family dynamics.

And even if it were undemocratic, what could be done about it? Everything is everything. Insects are fish, said the great liar. Trees are roast beef. The Supreme Court has set a precedent for a future of rulings such as these. Well heck, why not? It’s about time the law caught up with the dreamlike shapeshifting virtual world of tomorrow we’re living in today. Because tomorrow is today, kind of. If you give up trying to tell the difference.

This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!