September 21, 2018
Slippery Slopes

The Supreme Court considers it a first amendment violation to limit how much a man may spend on his own campaign. It is not a first amendment problem, however, for the state to limit how much I can give to that man. If money equals free speech, then, the rich man has more free speech than I do, at least as long as he spends it on himself. This is an open encouragement to rich men to run for office, and it has worked very well. We cannot buy votes outright, but we can do so with a condom on, by buying the TV ads without which no one can be elected, and which no one but rich men or their agents can afford.

In effect the Supreme Court has ruled, by its imaginative misreading of the constitution, that money trumps freedom of speech. Rich men or servants bought by them regularly overwhelm the rest of us on election day. Not a thing we can do about it either. They’re just exercising their constitutional rights to free speech. If they do it with a megaphone and all we can do is whisper, it's not the Court's fault.

It's just nature's way that certain people should wind up having more freedom of speech than others. When the articulate and the inarticulate debate, for instance, the articulate tend to have the edge. The inequality is caused by nature, which is notoriously unfair. Nature keeps short men out of the NBA, and there is nothing, constitutionally, to be done about it.

But allowing money to amplify a single voice until no one else can be heard is an inequality of class, not one caused by nature. Not only does it exercise the rich man’s freedom of speech; it smothers the poor man’s. The Supreme Court has served the cause of democracy only if we believe, as the billionaire H.L. Hunt did, that the richer you are, the more votes you should have.

This is the sort of swamp that an idiot insistence on consistency can lead a person into. On the right you see it in the NRA’s support for machine guns; on the left in the ACLU’s defense of pornography and the right of the rich to buy elections. In both cases, the problem comes from reliance on the slippery slope fallacy. But the truth is that most of us, individuals and societies, spend our entire existence on slippery slopes and somehow manage to escape falling in. Freedom from governmental oppression is possible without automatic weapons; political freedom is possible without kiddie porn; democracy is possible without reserving the U.S. Senate for millionaires and their servants.

( I just checked the H.L. Hunt reference with Google, discovering that he wasn’t as dumb as I thought — sometimes, in fact, brilliant. Take this for instance.)

The perfect society would bar political discussion from TV, from radio and from all meetings of more than 200. By confining rhetoric to print, a society would protect the unstable masses from demagoguery.
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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at September 21, 2018 05:57 PM
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Actually, the same argument used to be made about freedom of the press. "Anybody can enjoy freedom of the press, as long as he's rich enough to own a press." The Internet pretty much killed that problem. I am confident that, in time, it will kill the power of money to drown out speech, as well.

Yours crankily,
The New York Crank

Posted by: The New YorkCrank on September 23, 2018 1:42 AM
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