Time to Fight for Free Speech

Every supporter of the natural right to unlimited free speech and free association in elections, be you liberal, conservative, or libertarian, should be outraged at Senate Democrats’ current extremist campaign to repeal the First Amendment for all Americans, save for a select few who parrot their talking points in the establishment press that are given a special class exemption status.

Despite the completely faux populist rhetoric about stopping “Big Money” from “buying elections,” the controlling of political speech via campaign finance “reform” has historically always solely been about protecting incumbent politicians and their (Big Moneyed, I might add) special interest allies from competing outsider candidates and ideas in the political marketplace through disproportional enforcement against cash-strapped citizen challenger campaigns that often need large contributions of funds to combat against the innumerable advantages of incumbency.

Where this amendment to pass, any “reasonable” free speech you have will be a wholly writ of privilege from the State, able to be rescinded at anytime and for any purpose that the political class deems “unreasonable” (i.e., threatens their reelection).

The pointless symbolism of “Add the Words”

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(Photo credit: Idaho Statesman)

It should be considered a mandatory lesson to learn that any political movement that thinks writing down words on parchment paper will end bad behavior, real or imagined, is one that is destined for failure and disappointment.

Enter the “Add The Words” movement in Idaho. This group of gay rights activists takes its name from its goal to “add the words” of sexual orientation and gender identity to the Idaho Human Rights Act. Currently, state law only prevents against discrimination based on age, disability, race, color, national origin, religion, and sex.

It has garnered a large following from the state’s LGBT activist community, young liberals, journalists and commentators, and Democratic politicians. It has a Facebook page with over 5 and half thousand “likes” on Facebook, and even has a crowd-funding Indiegogo campaign to fund a documentary on their struggle. The preview plays a voice over of and shows cutaways to Ronald Reagan speaking over images, a shrewd move in a state that delivered all of its 44 counties to the 40th president both times.

While watching the preview, I noticed that most of the cutaways featured the Statehouse, politicians, marches, banners, and, predictably, protesters holding their hands over their ideas symbolizing how they’ve been “silenced.”

The only thing that seemed to be missing from the video, and the movement at large, is any seeming understanding about the world outside of the Statehouse dome.

Most people wake up, drive their kids to school, go to work, grab a beer with their work buddies, and have dinner with their families. No where do you see any of this, save for a cutaway to a lesbian couple in what appears like a marriage ceremony. And yet, none of this seems to register for the activists, who seem to be convinced that once the few magic words of “sexual orientation” and “gender orientation” are written down on parchment paper, poof!, all homophobia and transphobia will have ridden out on the frontier like the end of John Wayne western movie and disappeared.

There’s only one problem: Government’s laws doesn’t win hearts or change minds, no matter how punitive the penalties. The tough work of changing societies happens in our everyday lives in everyday ways. The state “adding the words” against homophobia will no more make society less so than the state “adding the words” against marijuana usage will make society use less of it.

Indeed, robust empirical study has been done of anti-discrimination laws in private business and most have shown that either no noticeable effect, or slight or noticeable negative effects. This shouldn’t be a big shock to those who understand the pesky and persistent laws economics. When governments add burdensome liabilities to employment like arbitrary minimum wages or anti-discrimination laws (especially ones that go further than discriminatory motivation and ban any unequal impact), which raises the marginal cost of employees without increasing their marginal value, employers find creative ways to avoid hiring them because it is in their interest to do so.

This has been the tragic legacy of many, though not all,  anti-discrimination and equal pay laws.

However, it should also be pointed out that the very goals of Add the Words indicates they have absolutely no faith in people to change to do the right thing without the threat of government coercion. The great 19th century French commentator and author of the classic Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville, said a man’s love for absolute government is directly proportionate to his disdain for those around him.

Apparently, it’s not enough that 80% of Idahoans already “believe that no one should be fired from their job because they are gay, straight, or transgender,” as the group’s own website says. If that many citizens already have embraced the LGBT community without “adding” any symbolic words, why all the fuss when it’s likely that that number is only going to increase?

The reason, sadly as for so many for self-righteous nonsense, is that pointless symbolism trumps substantive action–or principled non-action–in contemporary American politics. This is why the House of Representatives have repealed ObamaCare 40-45 some odd times (although it could be hundreds now. I have no idea), and why when the Republicans took control of the lower chamber in 2011 they engaged in the pathetic and stupid act of reading the exact text Constitution (save for the parts about human slavery) on the House floor.

It’s why the extent of Barack Obama’s sad agenda is further restricting liberty of contract by making low-income minority youth unhirable through his arbitrary minimum wage increase of $10.10.

It’s why politicians from both parties in elections, when discussing anecdotal stories about those who have been negatively or positively affected legislation, just happen to always give examples of people in swing states.

It’s why Democrats keep pushing bullshit “assault” weapon bans, even though only a tiny fraction of gun homicides occur from them and evidence from the first one showed no measurable impact.

It’s why Congress always passes meaningless legislation demanding the president “stand with” Israel, or the Republic of Georgia, or Ukraine, or the Syrian rebels (even if they’re with al-Qaeda), so they can grandstand at AIPAC or other hawkish conventions.

And it’s why it doesn’t matter if 4, or 5, or 10, or 80, or 100,000 words are added the Idaho Human Rights Act or any other piece of existing state or federal statutes.

The positive but unromantic, uninspiring truth is society is getting more tolerant and accepting of gays, lesbians, and transgendered people all the time, all on its own. Previously marginalized groups are enjoying a renaissance of acceptance and that is all for the good.

So rather than pursuing meaningless legislation that will have little-to-no positive impact on employment and housing, etc., and unnecessarily delegates more power to the state and away from citizens to decide their own associations, LGBT activists should refocus on issues that really will make a positive difference, like repealing Idaho’s discriminatory same-sex marriage law or expanding school choice and educational freedom so parents can take their bullied gay kids out of hostile environments and put them in good ones.

Pursuits like that, and not adding meaningless words that creates more problem than they solve, is the way to truly help those most marginalized in society.

Three cheers for Citizens United v. FEC and free speech!

Today marks the four year anniversary of arguably the most controversial Supreme Court ruling of the last decade. On January 22nd 2010, in a 5 to 4 decision, the Court struck down a provision of 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, popularly known as McCain-Feingold after its two principal Senate co-sponsors, which mandated the carte blanche prohibition on corporations and unions financing independent political advertising 30 days before primary and general elections.

Right after the ruling was announced, it’s fairly safe to say that the left in America went bat shit crazy. They turned a decision that should have been praised as the greatest pro-free speech decision since New York Times v. Sullivan into “our Dred Scott,” as Keith Olbermann infamously put it, referring to the 1850’s Supreme Court decision that held upheld the forced returning of a runaway slave (that’s right, Citizens United is akin to slavery!).

In reality, Citizens United held that every American has the exact same rights as super wealthy individuals and multinational media corporations to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money for the purpose of independent political speech and association.

Pre-Citizens United, a billionaire like T. Boone Pickens could take out a multi-million dollar ad buy to promote his energy plan, but any group of citizens who lacked such resources were banned from coming together to pool resources to express themselves under one banner.

Opponents of spending money on First Amendment-protected speech shrieked that now our elections would be “bought” by “the highest bidder” and mocked those who said “money is speech.” First of all, let’s never forget that voters, not contributors, determine who wins elections. Ideally, the candidate as well as independent backers should have full freedoms to raise and spend as much as they want to on trying to persuade (not “buy”) support among the voters (and his opponents are equally free to do the same), and then they vote. Period.

Second, while, true, money itself isn’t “speech,” it cannot be denied that money enables speech and by restricting the amount of money citizens can either raise and spend themselves, or give to others, for the purposes of speaking, you are engaging in de facto censorship.

Super PACs, which resulted from a later DC Court ruling that allowed for corporations and unions to raise unlimited amounts as well as spend, and activist nonprofits, have allowed for more speech and more competitive elections by allowing for more sources of money to go to more sources of speech, leading to a more informed electorate and a freer society over all.

So three cheers for Citizens United! Three cheers for free speech!

(P.S. Here is a fantastic short little video put out by the pro-First Amendment Center for Competitive Politics about all the things the anti-free speech media and activists don’t want you to know about Citizens United v. FEC)

Is statism empathetic?

The political prognosticator and congressional race-counter Charlie Cook writes how both the Democrats and Republicans have chosen their prevailing messages going into the 2014 midterm elections. For the D’s, it’s income inequality. For the GOP, it’s job growth and repealing Obamacare:

Republicans are obviously trying to cast the midterm election as a referendum on the Affordable Care Act, hardly a surprise given the broadly negative views that a plurality of Americans hold toward it and its disastrous launch.

Democrats want to change the subject to income inequality, hoping to buy time for the Affordable Care Act to work out its problems and for a constituency to grow among those who like and use it. 

Far be it for me to give Republicans advice (I loathe the thought) but I believe they would do well to point out that Democrats are railing against income inequality at time when we have the biggest and most powerful government in all of American history. Governments at all levels now consume 40 cents of dollar that is generated in wealth. They have nationalized or severely cartelized formerly private industries like health care, banking, automobiles, and the student loan industry.

The government taxes more, regulates more, and controls more than ever before. This is damning inditement of both Progressivism as well as “compassionate conservatism.”

Real empathy, which is what I would say if I ever had the displeasure of running for public office, is wanting to fight to give people back as much of the tax dollars and their liberty as possible. Real empathy is the belief that citizens, not the state, should be able to decide how they want to work, where to send their kids to school, what foreign workers to bring in to work, who to marry, where they want to live, how they want to build their house, decide how much in taxes they want to pay for the services they receive,  what kind of light bulbs they want to buy, whether or not they want to cover their workers birth control, what kind of health insurance they want to buy, whether they want to donate more to a political campaign then the State dictates, what substances they want to put in their body, and whether they can download a song and not have the feds break down their door.

That is empathy. That is liberty.