Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Free Speech -- or at least free text...

My good friend Calvin posted a comment on my posting on slippery slopes. He makes some good points about free speech and provides some free text that I can cut and paste, putting valuable words on my blog without having to type them. As a matter of fact, I think I will paste it now so I can demolish his argument. He said --

I agree that the root problem, to change metaphors, is the idea that money ought to be removed from the notion of free speech and political discourse. It pains me to think that billionaires can spawn multiple front organizations and pump millions of dollars into influencing elections and issues of the day. Why should a billionaire have any more influence than me? I can see the temptation to prevent such people from doing these things and I can see the temptation to at least require financial transparency in their activities. But I believe that it is a temptation that must be resisted. Free speech without the freedom to spend money, and spend it privately, is no free speech at all.

Having said that, I'm also in favor of a free and aggressive press to find the people who are spending the money to support various initiatives and candidates.

So, on with the demolition. I will start with my most devastating argument: I agree with him one hundred percent. Take that! Ha Ha! In a perfect world -- or even a half-way sensible world -- freedom of speech would be limited only by other people's rights to life, liberty and property. As long as everything was mutually voluntary, and as long as the "speech" in questions stayed away from libel, slander and deliberate fraud -- anything would go.

But, sadly, we find ourselves quite a way down a slippery slope and my sympathy for financial transparency in political speech stems from the fact that it addresses most of the more sensible concerns that prompted campaign finance reform and is considerably upslope from our current position. It offers a handy outcropping where I can tie off my rope while I trudge up the hill.

[At this point the writer senses that he has exceeded his readers' patience with his metaphor, and resolves to knock it off...] There are two ideas here; both are wrong but one, I contend, is wronger than the other. The ideas are that the first ammendment was not intended to protect certain types of speech: -- a) political speech, or b) anonymous speech. Version "b" -- anonymous speech -- is clearly wrong; the founders did quite a bit of anonymous writing, especially before the revolution when they had an understandable nervousness about being hung. But version "a" is exactly wrong -- 108 degrees wrong -- laser-guided precision wrong. Political speech is exactly what the founders were seeking to protect. One can imagine that they hoped the protections of the first ammendment would be a better solution to the hanging problem and eliminate some of the need for anonymity.

The other appealing thing about requiring finiancial transparency in political speech (not that I advocate it, mind you, but for the record) is that it offers a much less radical absolutist position. You can do the whole thing and be done with it without setting up some sort of bizarre, Orwellian police state. This isn't true for the current, already-intrusive campaign finance laws which come with an attic-full of "other shoes" waiting to drop. A few of them came clattering down in the last election but there are still piles of them up there.


I have been told that I have once again posted an entry that cannot be decyphered. I was going to say something snippy about the quality of education these days and post a link to a good online dictionary, but then I couldn't find a good Gibberish/English dictionary online. [The Reuters news service has some excellent examples of Gibberish, but dialectical differences and the lack of a lexical index make it unsuitable as a reference for translation.]

So, I have decided to add this brief translation of this posting.

As a matter of principle I oppose any restriction, regulation, monitoring or regulation of political speech. I strongly oppose the current "campaign finance reform" laws that impose financial limits on political speech. I also oppose a requirement to state the sources of funding for political messages but I consider such a requirement less damaging to first ammendment rights than the spending limit.

However: I do not believe it is politically possible to repeal all campaign finance regulations. The resentments and irritations that prompted their adoption are still present and I don't see the political will needed to make the laws go away completely. I am rather more hopeful that the public can be convinced that the less-damaging idea of financial transparency addresses the same issues as the spending limits, especially given the obvious failure of campaign finance regulation in the past election cycle.

No comments: