Monday, January 25, 2010

Doug Tice edits Katie

But it appears that the reverse may be true, too. In an opinion piece in the StarTribune today, opinion page editor Doug Tice defends last week’s Supreme Court decision to open the floodgates of corporate money for campaign contributions [it’s the Citizens United case, if you want to search for other references].

The gravaman of his argument is that media corporations have a big megaphone, so why shouldn’t other companies have one, too? This is a piece of thinking for which Katie would indeed be proud:

Last Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld this elementary truth [that political debate that is supposed to shape and control government] with a sweeping ruling throwing out many restrictions on the free political speech of corporations and of other associations, like labor unions and advocacy groups. The decision threw editorial boards at some influential newspapers into a frenzy of indignation.

What's strange is that all these editorialists are salaried spokespeople for, well, corporations. Speaking with the so-called "institutional voice" of their employers, they routinely endorse candidates for public office, usually in the decisive weeks of campaigns. This involves contributing to candidacies not just a message of support, but whatever credibility and influence has been amassed through the newspaper corporation's long exertions and investment.

It’s a novel argument, Spot; you have to admit that.

It’s not even novel, grasshopper; it’s just a talking point. Mitch McConnell made the same point on one of the talking heads Sunday shows yesterday. But let’s ask Doug a question, just for giggles. Which of these things is not like the others:

1) Writing a letter to the editor decrying the state of pothole repair in Metropolis.

2) Attending the church of your choice on Sunday, or not attending one, if that’s your choice.

3) Writing an opinion piece or even an unsigned editorial in a newspaper about a candidate.

4) Mounting a street demonstration to protest the war in Afghanistan.

5) Telephoning your state representative to urge her to restore the GMAC cuts.

6) A corporation shoveling money at a politician until he chokes.

What’s that you say, Doug? They’re all the same to you? The first five are traditional exercises of the freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly, and the petition for redress of grievances. The last one? A horse of a different color, Spot says.

The personhood of corporations and the equivalence of money and speech are two of the more corrosive things that have happened to First Amendment jurisprudence in the last century, and they are among the loopiest, too. The fact that Justice Scalia is such a fan of both ideas gives the lie to his boast that he is an “originalist.”

In spite of what Tice says about the Supreme Court merely following precedent, the Citizens United decision, while foreordained given the composition of the court, was, in fact, massive judicial activism striking down long-standing federal law. Supreme Court Justices used to lecture lawyers from the bench that the court reaches constitutional questions last; not this crew. It asked the parties to rebrief the case, because it wanted to get to the good parts.

Jim Kunstler wrote a little bit about it this morning in his weekly rant, Clusterfuck Nation:

. . .  That's why movements like Nazism start. If there ever was another nation beautifully primed for an explosion of deadly irrational politics, it's us. And it looks to me as if that's exactly what we're going to get -- especially now that the Supreme Court has made it possible for corporations to buy elections lock, stock, and barrel. I hope our constitutional law professor president turns his attention to proposing a legislative act that will sharply reign in the putative "personhood" prerogatives of corporations. They are relatively new entities in legal history, and their supposed "rights," duties, obligations, and limits have been regularly subject to re-definition over the past hundred years.  There's no reason to believe that the court's current ideas are definitive. In fact, they are completely crazy -- given the fact that the fundamental character of corporations is sociopathic, insofar as their only express allegiance is to their shareholders, meaning they are devoid of any sense of the public interest, meaning they are unfit to participate in electoral politics.

Update: It is also worth mentioning that in the political contribution area, as opposed to the realm of freedom of the press, media companies enjoyed no advantage over other corporations. And there was no restraint on any of them starting a newspaper, and little restraint on acquiring a broadcast license. The fact that media companies have ownership like Rupert Murdoch, General Electric, and Disney Corporation also demonstrates just how absurd Tice’s complaint is.

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