Congress Shall Make No Law

Column by Tim Hartnett.

Exclusive to STR

Supposedly, support for the 1st Amendment is up 18% over last year at this time. That’s according to a Newseum Institute poll of 1002 Americans contacted by telephone. The Institute offers no explanation of what brought on the sudden outbreak of broadmindedness. This time around 75% reportedly disagree with the statement: “The First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees.” The trouble is most of them are none too clear on exactly what the amendment says.

Newseum’s data tells us 57% know it concerns freedom of speech, while only 19% are aware religious liberty is in there. Ten percent are able to connect those 45 words to rights of press and assembly. A measly 2% seems to have heard we get to petition the government for a redress of grievances. The other 98% must think the only mail that gets opened at 1600 Penn and on Capitol Hill has a Wall Street return address.

The introduction to the poll’s report, conducted under the supervision of Dr. Ken Dautrich, claims a 3.2% margin of error “at the 95% level of confidence.” But can anyone really believe that 10% of the US population forgot freedom of religion was included in the course of twelve months? 2014’s figure was 29%. Polling science leaves a lot to be desired. People willing to respond to these kinds of calls might not be an ideal sampling of the population. They do sound like the kinds of subjects the powers that be fantasize about, though.

It isn’t necessary to toss the good doctor’s numbers out altogether. They seem to be indicative of some trends, and not all necessarily bad ones. Question #3 of the poll: “Overall, the news media tries to report the news without bias” is a notion that 24% take a shine to. Seventy percent disagree. Roughly the same amount of people, 69%, think, “It is important for our democracy that the news media act as a watchdog on government.” The idea that media is a watchdog that needs watching is awfully sophisticated coming from dolts who aren’t up on the 1st Amendment.

If the news industry isn’t all that trustworthy keeping tabs on the ruling class, as over two thirds of us apparently suspect, who is a concerned citizen supposed to listen to? Supposedly there is something toxic in all those advocacy ads paid for by fat-cats and special interest groups. Should an immune class exist with special entitlement to society’s pulpits and the ears of millions? This was the law of the land until SCOTUS overturned it in Citizens United v FEC. Prior to that 2010 ruling, the ideologically like-minded were legally barred from access to several modern means of mass communication 60 days prior to general elections. CNN, Fox, MSNBC, Clear Channel, OWN, Bloomberg, CBS, ABC et al, meanwhile, went on and on and on 24/7.

A sizable proportion of the electorate is pining for a return to those pre-Citizens United days. They find solace in a proposal known as The People’s Rights Amendment. It’s an idea that’s supposed to give people more rights by making it harder for them to be heard. It is liberating in its way. When people are legally prevented from spending their own money to spread important messages, there’s that much more in the liquor budget.

Effectively, People’s Rights would hand all the microphones back to guys like Bill O’Reilly, who can cut off miscreant guests with the ex-cathedra authority of an arch-pope. NI’s poll reports 73% oppose letting corporations and unions spend as much as they want in support of, or opposition to, a political candidate. Another 50% are against allowing private individuals that privilege. “Money isn’t speech,” the ring leaders of the anti-Citizens United movement proclaim, nor is a printing press, or any other communicative device, an ennobled class of human beings qualified to out shout the words of laymen.

Outside of Amazonian jungles and remote Pacific isles, the process of survival is universally corporate. Nobody builds a car and a road all by himself. We get by through cooperative efforts. A man who wrote and printed his own tracts didn’t get very far persuading people even 200 years ago. Thomas Paine was busy drinking once his work was composed. Legions of others printed his words up and got them circulated. Communication on a mass scale is a corporate endeavor. Denying that right to corporations effectively denies it altogether without making privileged exceptions.

Wolf Blitzer, Rush Limbaugh, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Maher, John Stewart, Sean Hannity and Rachel Maddow are voices just as corporate as any ad from Exxon. Corporations are bodies of people and modern ease wouldn’t exist without them. Populist fiats to shut up special interests will simply concentrate the power of an already unaccountable media.

People with something to say will be about getting the word out anyway they can. The idea that making such efforts illegal isn’t “abridging the freedom of speech” illuminates the kind of deviance American ideology is up against. The professoriate hell-bent on stifling political speech to the masses never pays the private dialogue going on between special interests and DC hierarchies any mind. They aren’t interested in the least in what voices are influencing the government. It’s what Joe Six-Pack sees and hears that they demand to control.

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Tim Hartnett's picture
Columns on STR: 20


mjackso6's picture

"SECTION 1. We the people who ordain and establish this Constitution intend the rights protected by this Constitution to be the rights of natural persons.

SECTION 2. The words people, person, or citizen as used in this Constitution do not include corporations, limited liability companies or other corporate entities established by the laws of any State, the United States, or any foreign state, and such corporate entities are subject to such regulation as the people, through their elected State and Federal representatives, deem reasonable and are otherwise consistent with the powers of Congress and the States under this Constitution.

SECTION 3. Nothing contained herein shall be construed to limit the people’s rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, free exercise of religion, freedom of association and all such other rights of the people, which rights are unalienable."

Above is the text of the proposed amendment, taken directly from the web site linked in your article.

Perhaps I'm missing something, or just being naive, but are you saying that corporations ~should~ be treated as actual persons? I fully agree that anyone should be able to throw away as much of his/her ~own~ money as they want, even on activities as pointless as politics. And certainly a corporation (a group of supposedly like-minded ~individuals~) shouldn't be barred from spending as much of it's assets as it's board of directors agrees to on any agreed-to endeavor, but that doesn't make the corporation a "person" or bestow upon it the status of "person-hood".

Again, I might be missing something, but section three of the proposed amendment certainly seems to limit it's reach, leaving private individuals no worse off than they are now (which is to say, pretty bad).

To this, I might add that I think it makes little difference. If I believed that the intent of the Constitution was to actually offer any real protections for 'citizens', or that citizens' votes actually had any real effect on the outcome of elections, I'd be a little more concerned. As it stands, I doubt that this, ~if~ it passes, will make any serious difference in the woeful state of affairs that we 'enjoy' today.

If I've missed something, or my logic is just shot full of holes, please correct me; this isn't meant as snark, just my observations. Thank you for your article, sir.

Mike Jackson

antiox's picture

I'm saying that impeding corporate bodies from using mass communication violates the first amendment. Which it does.

Samarami's picture

Anarchists and libertarians are prone to follow Thomas Pynchon's observation:

    "If they can keep you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about answers."

( ~Thomas Pynchon

Each time I read or hear a debate over "the-constitution" I'm tempted to advise the participants to go back to basics and read this:

It's easy to get caught up flailing away about the "police state" (yes, indeed, all states are police states -- they may appear in the beginning to not start out as such, but each and every monopoly upon violence will most certainly become one). Few want to simply go back to basics -- as the late Murray Rothbard did -- and understand that the state is an agency of coercion made up of psychopaths with a penchant to "rule".

As long as "we" play along with their game and squabble over the details of their "rule", they win.


Mark Davis's picture

Corporations are "fictitious persons" created on paper by the state.  As for freedom of speech for corporations: The state giveth and the state taketh away.  Natural law does not apply to "fictitious persons".