Speech already is rationed. Those who have no money have no speech. Poor people haven’t lost their voice -- they can’t afford a voice.
In all the hullabaloo over the Supreme Court's decision on health care, another of its rulings quickly fell off the public radar. Before deciding the fate of the Affordable Care Act, the Court announced it would not reconsider Citizens United, the odious 5-4 decision two years ago that opened our elections to unlimited contributions.
Within minutes of that announcement, right-wing partisans were crowing about the advantage they now own, an advantage not due to ideas or personalities but to the sheer force of money.
That the Court’s original decision was about “free” speech is a hoax. No, it’s about carpet bombing elections with all the tonnage your rich paymasters want to buy. Try not to laugh when you hear one of its perpetrators, the noted lawyer Floyd Abrams, say, as he did not too long ago: “I don’t think we should want as a matter of policy, to make decisions which are essentially, people can’t do all the speaking that they can in a political campaign. I don’t think we can ration speech.”
Speech already is rationed. Those who have no money have no speech. Poor people haven’t lost their voice -- they can’t afford a voice. Everyday working people suffer from universal laryngitis, brought on by the absence of money. As for children – children who have a big stake in our elections but no vote, forget it— for them to be heard they would need piggy banks the size of Walmart heirs.
If it’s free speech the Deep Pockets are practicing and touting, why are you ashamed of it? Why hide from voters where the money is coming from? Why not openly say you are downright proud to be exercising your First Amendment rights and writing checks is your patriotic duty? Instead, conservatives across the country are fighting legal battles to keep their sugar daddies secret. Why? According to their guardian angel in Congress – the highly leveraged Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell – the right wing opposes disclosure laws because the super-rich just might be bullied and harassed by the rest of us who want to know who’s buying our elections.
So the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal asks us to have pity on billionaires and those little ol’ corporations and their CEOs who just might have their tender feelings hurt; exposed to boycotts and pickets if it was known which candidates they were buying.
Let’s see if we’ve got this right: On the one hand, conservatives declare that corporations and the superrich can spend all they want on exercising their First Amendment rights, but on the other, they demand to keep it secret so the rest of us can’t exercise our First Amendment rights to fight back. Have you ever heard of more cowardly lions?
Page 2 of 2 - It’s one big joke. Big enough to make you cry. Three things don’t go together: Money. Secrecy. Democracy. That’s the nub of the matter. This is all a sham for invalidating democracy in the name of democracy. It’s the trick authoritarians always use to hide their real intentions, which in this case is absolute power over our public life and institutions: the privatization of everything.
The Supreme Court is pointing the way. Instead of mitigating the worst excesses of both the state and the private sector, with Citizens United and the latest decision affirming it, the Court has taken sides -- saying to the massed wealth of the one percent: America is yours for the taking, for the buying. Help yourself.
That’s what George III thought, too, which brings us back to the Declaration of Independence and Thomas Jefferson, who seems to have thought that a little uprising now and then would be good for what ails us. This time the overweening power is not monarchy but plutocracy, the convergence of the political, religious and corporate right that would keep us in the dark about where all that money is coming from, and who it’s buying, until one day we wake up and our country is no longer our own.
Remember, moneyed lords and ladies, what King George learned the hard way – you can only push your subjects so far.
Bill Moyers is managing editor and Michael Winship, a native of Canandaigua, is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program “Moyers & Company,” airing on public television. Check local airtimes or comment at www.BillMoyers.com.