A quick comment on a story in Sunday’s New York Times, “Paralyzed F.E.C. Can’t Do Its Job, Chairwoman Says“. Read it. It’s frustrating and frightening.
It is frustrating because of how absolutely dysfunctional the bi-partisan committee has become. Three Democrats and three Republicans and they agree on nothing. (But there is a villain here. It is the GOP.)
That brings us to frightening. The story quotes Republican commissioner Lee E. Goodman who says “Congress set this place up to gridlock…This agency is functioning as Congress intended. Democracy isn’t collapsing around us.”
I beg to differ.
This is a fine position to take if democracy indeed is serving the people, but it is hard to make the case that democracy is served when there speech is so strongly enabled by money and power or so strongly inhibited by the lack of money and power. If the status quo does not equally serve the interests of all citizens, we should be concerned. To say, “Oh well, it is what it is and we can’t do anything because gridlock is what Congress intended” really misses the point. The Constitution still protects the rights of all Americans, right? And isn’t it still the responsibility of Congress to represent the people and protect those rights? Congress should not intend gridlock as a barrier to rights equality.
Let’s put a little common sense on the issue of money and (ironically named) free speech. If large sums of money did not matter, would people who have the millions — if not billions — to spend on speech spend that money in the first place? If there were not political and economic benefit from spending $889 million dollars — as David and Charles Koch will openly pledge to spend — why would they do it? If the value of free speech were not tied to free spending, why would people with enormous sums of money to invest in political speech fight so hard to protect the laws that permit their spending?
The frightening outcome of this development is the way that inequality is touted as a First Amendment issue. Toward the end of the story, former Republican commissioner Bradley A. Smith is described as someone with whom Democrats could work. Smith left the F.E.C. in 2005. Today he jokingly challenges Democrat commissioner Ellen Weintraub to a fight, “Let’s go right now, you speech-hating enemy of the First Amendment!”
A joke, right? But think about it. Republicans have turned the power and privilege of money into a First Amendment issue; they cloak it in the veil of Constitutional rights. To question it is to be a “speech-hating” enemy of free speech. That’s frightening.
So what is democracy in relation to the First Amendment. Are the rights defined by the Constitution rights for all Americans or are they rights for those who have somehow gained an advantage? If we accept Commissioner Goodman’s assessment that gridlock which prevents change is a good thing, it seems that Republicans — as a matter of policy — support rights weighted to serve the interests of the advantaged over the rest. That’s hardly a working democracy.
Read the story and see what you think. It is bedtime for me.