I’ve been wrestling with a rebuttal to Gleen Greenwald’s views on the Supreme Court ruling banning any campaign finance regulations. He’s decidedly liberal and takes no prisoners on either side of the debate, which is why it surprised me that he would defend the rulings that, in my view, threaten to destroy once and for all any vestige of democracy our Republic has. Clearly, I believe he has it wrong; specifically, that framing the argument as a constitutional one based on the First Amendment is the wrong way to go at it. It’s not a speech issue – even if the specific reason for the First Amendment was to protect political speech – it’s a commerce issue.
Luckily, Lawrence Lessig, professor of Law at Stanford and formerly Harvard took him down a notch on the Huffington Post, arguing that he’s gone down a dangerous line of reasoning in his zeal. I’d argue, though, that claiming corporations and other corporated organizations like unions and political parties are considered “people” because they are protected from government search and seizure is a disastrously liberal (in the small ‘l’ version of the word) interpretation of corporations as legal entities. They have protections for property and legal liabilities for debt: They do not speak, especially not politically. Their constituents speak, and have protected speech, but they do not.
The argument for Free Speech flies straight in the face of what Greenwald and everybody else who has a brain pretty much understands: That what this ruling entails is taking the kid gloves off for corporate oligarchy, destroying the political Free Speech of the great vast majority of the US population and thus destroying our collective Human Rights. Simply put, either we should all have equal time on the airwaves or none of us does, else we should drop the pretense of egalitarianism when it comes to speech. As it stands, what we have is a situation where the only “message” that gets out – and Karl Rove would be proud of this – is the one whose purveyors have the economic means of conveying it. Money isn’t necessarily speech, but it becomes the gatekeeper to speech.
Arguably, the Founding Fathers accepted this, considering the United States’ original restrictions on voting to land-owning white males, and as such this current monetary restriction – namely, who can afford campaign ads – is not without precedent, but it is certainly regressive in the extreme. But that said, this is not a speech issue. This is a commerce issue. This is the protection of property run rampant: When property is so encompassing as to include media rights, and its protection so immutable in the eyes (and guise) of the legislature, democracy falls hollow. The fundamental human right to Speech has fallen before the commercial right to Opportunity.
The corporations have bought themselves so many human rights they’re the only humans actually recognized.