At a Senate hearing in late July, Senator Dick Durbin proposed that government take the radical step to amend the Constitution. The cause of his concern? Too much speech.
Durbin is worried about what he calls the “rapid rise of super PACs.” These are groups with the audacity to raise money to criticize people like Durbin—professional politicians. Ever since the Supreme Court decided Citizens United, Durbin has taken every opportunity to exercise his First Amendment rights to vocally oppose the opinion. But the First Amendment doesn’t just protect Senators’ speech, which, I suppose, is part of the “problem.”
On a related front, Jonathan Soros has announced his plans to be the “thought leader” of the new Super PAC “Friends of Democracy.” Its aim is to raise oodles of millions of dollars to spend on negative advertising for candidates who oppose campaign finance reform. Mr. Soros understands that the “irony is not lost on anybody”—that he proposes to flex his First Amendment rights to speak so that others will not. Soros would like to “build a real political, electoral consequence for being bad on these issues and to show them the benefit of being good.” Friends of Democracy?
“Speech for me, but not for thee” seems to be the resounding cry of Durbin and Soros. Durbin enjoys an ample senatorial bully pulpit to spread his views, however far flung, that most never enjoy. Soros and his “Friends of Democracy” intend to use their wealth to shut down those who are “bad on these [campaign finance] issues.” But what about the rights of everyday Americans who might believe Obama, Romney, or even the local judge are bad on particular issues? Shouldn’t they enjoy the same speech rights as distinguished Senators and American scions?
The First Amendment admits no loophole to shut down “bad speech” while protecting “good speech.” It protects global warming sensationalists equally the same as global warming deniers. It welcomes NAACP protest marches and controversial KKK parades. Importantly, it leaves the point of discussion and debate to the people, not the government. When that occurs, an amazing thing happens, individuals are given back responsibility for moral agency and the development of civil society and civil discourse—if they so choose.
While Soros and company may wholeheartedly believe they are on the “right” side of any issue, so too do millions of Americans who contribute to groups like the NRA, Sierra Club, or the John Birch Society. They’d just like their chance to speak, whether as a Super PAC, in a coffee clatch, or in the newspaper. Liberalizing campaign finance laws and limiting government interference would go a long way in reaching that goal.