FREEDOM OF SPEECH
ARE THERE ANY LIMITS TO MY FREEDOM OF SPEECH?
I typically do not pay much attention to campaign reform, especially laws regarding political advertising. I consider myself capable of deciding whom I will vote for based upon my own thoughtful assessment of the candidate(s). But I do recognize that campaign ad's can be pretty powerful and even insidious in influencing one’s thinking, including my own, perhaps in more ways than I realize or even want to realize.
Outside the context of political advertising, I know at times I buy certain products based upon a media commercial. Even the advertising on the product container itself has guided my brain and hand to "pick me." I know I can be as gullible as the next guy, but at least, I am a Zen gullible person. I’m aware that I am gullible! And I’m gullible only in the moment, in the here and now. I might not be gullible the next moment, after a little mindfulness kicks in!
So I guess I was expecting the Supreme Court Justices to be a little more mindful when it came to reviewing the laws governing political advertising by big corporations in the last thirty days of a campaign. I have to admit I was really "struck" by their decision. In fact, the first thing that came to my mind was disillusioning. The Supreme Court Justices, well at least five of them, had been bought out or worse, they sold out.
After listening to portions of the decision, I actually shifted a little bit and began to consider the possibility that free speech was perhaps more important than attempting to control large corporations from "electioneering.".
I also retreated to and found some solace in the thought that perhaps the decision is a call to us citizens to monitor large corporate spending in campaigns, and if necessary, boycott any corporation who attempts, deviously or otherwise, to monopolize advertising space or to maliciously try to influence the outcome of an election through "big bucks" advertising in the final days of a campaign.
And there is plenty of evidence that boycotts work. This link provides some interesting and information regarding successful boycotts.
Did you know, for example, that in 1791, British citizens started a boycott of sugar produced by slave labor? The boycott brought about a surge in the purchase of sugar from India which was produced by "free men." The link above lists 60 examples of successful boycotts dating back to 1985.
I also read an article about the successful boycott against the Nestle Company back in the 1970's. The Nestle Corporation was attempting to promote its baby formula to third world countries and was advertising that using their formula instead of breast milk would decrease malnourishment. If you keep abreast with organizations like the La Leche league, you know that the Nestle company quickly became no one's bosom buddy!
So if the Supreme Court did sell us out, we, as citizens, still have a lot of power to wield-- CLOUT!
All that being mulled over and said, I have continued to ponder the Court's decision. Precedence and tradition do play an important role in the law. And there has been a precedence for controlling Corporate spending in campaign ads. That’s why there are PAC’s. It is too clear that big business has always been and still is very powerful in our country both economically and poltically. If you have any doubts, just observe corporate behavior in the recent economic bailouts. It is difficult not to come to the conclusion that big corporations don't give a rat's petootie about the needs of the populous or humanity in general. Did I spell patootie correctly? What continues to boggle my mind is how the issue of freedom of speech somehow underlies the court’s decision. I don’t get that part of it at all.
So I wonder. I started thinking of all the activities that are not supported by my constitutional right of free speech. I cannot, for example, post the the N-word on the business of a black person or graffiti that word on the sidewalk in front of their business. I cannot send a "hate letter" to people I do not like because of their race or creed. Clients who come to my office for therapy, are informed that they cannot tell me of any plans to hurt or destroy the property of another person without the consequence of me warning the potential victim and also calling the police! I cannot stand up on a soap box outside Von's and make "terrorist threats." I can't even joke about bombs when I am going through security at the airport. When a bank teller asks me, "Is there anything else I can do for you today?" I want so badly to say, "Yes, give me all the money in that drawer." And then I would laugh. "Just kiddin’" I mean I’ve been a customer since 1967. They know me (maybe that is the problem). My freedom of speech would not protect me. Instead of laughing all the way to the bank, like corporate America, I would not be laughing as they drug me from the bank with my hands cutely cuffed behind me.
"Okay, Mr. Bradley, bend your head. That’s it" Slam.
"But officer, what about my freedom of speech?"
"Take that up in Court, Mr. Bradley."
Yes, there are very definite places and times where and when my free speech goes on the back burner. When I get pulled over by the motorcycle cop with his sun glasses, high boots and swagger (probably happens at least three times a week--just kidding!), I can't begin to tell you all the things I want to say, things I should be free to say. I mean, come on, what kind of sense of humor do these law enforcement types have, anyway. They laugh their butts off at us at the end of the day when they get together for a few brewskies with their buddies. But I can't say, "Hey, your butt got a little sore sitting around waiting to ticket someone....You think you look cool in those shades and boots....Anyone ever tell you those boots look gay....What are you thinking about when you're riding that Honda....Do you get aroused when you sit on that bike?"
I mean I could think of all kinds of things to say, but I don't. Or when one of my clients "forgets" to bring money, I don't say, "Yea, I bet that goes over really big when you're grocery shopping." When someone calls me after hours and they say, "Really sorry for bothering you," it would be so easy to say, "So tell me your sorry reason for bothering me," but I don't, and if any of you are reading this, I'm really not bothered. I love it when I get twenty seven phone calls after hours. Let's me know things are looking up!
And hey, when I'm in the passenger seat of our car with my sweetie pie behind the wheel, I definitely LOSE my free speech. Man, I'm tellin ya, keep it ALL to myself. Pray to God, say an Act of Contrition, wet my pants, anything BUT say what’s on my mind.
Have you ever been to the National Cemetery in Washington D. C., and observed the changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown soldier. THERE IS NO FREEDOM OF SPEECH there. You know, beyond a shadow of a doubt not even to blow your nose, let alone sneeze, or even reach for a handkerchief in your back pocket. What I remember is holding my breath the entire time! So much for free speech.
But, perhaps, if you have lots of money, lots and lots of money, some of it even taxpayer bailout money, you can spend whatever amount of money you want to monopolize the public electronic media to influence the bajeebies out of us to push an election in the direction that best suits your corporate needs. And that is the rub here. The Court’s decision basically shifts the right of free speech from an individual to a corporation. And maybe that’s a hair splitter. I don’t know, but it is an important observation.
Here is something else I don’t get. We have the statistical ability to measure the relationship between corporate spending and election outcomes. Granted, statistics can be spun and interpreted a half a dozen or more ways. But we know a lot about the variables that influence election outcomes. Did the Justices consult any of this information? I mean what is wrong with insuring that an election truly represents a democratic process in contrast to it representing the amount of money corporate America spent on campaign advertising?
In addition, what about INTENT? I am not free to say whatever I want if my intent is to engender hate. Am I correct about that? I do not think that Corporate America wants to spend whatever amount they can in the last thirty days of campaign as a way of exercising free speech. Obviously the intent is to influence the outcome of the election. And is their desire to change the outcome of the election for the good of the general population or is to the better the bottom line of the Corporation?
And it really is okay that the corporation wants to better their bottom line. That’s what it is all about, but that is not what an election is all about. I mean you got to be naive to think, again after the government bailouts, that corporate America in general is not wanting to influence the outcome of elections. I mean we get weird about Florida several years ago, we get weird about elections in foreign countries like Iran, but we turn a blind eye to stuffing the ballot box with corporate funds. No, I don’t get it.
I think there have been any number of local, state, and national elections where the results clearly indicated what some call a "mandate" from the people. And I know that some will say that corporate America and or money in general is always a part of creating such a mandate. And maybe so. I am open to that possibility. But the bottom line for me is that I do not want us to lose the ability to give a mandate or to NOT give a mandate. I want us to think about, to examine and assess what it is or whom it is we are voting for. I want us to be conscious of campaign advertising and know clearly that the advertising is trying to win our vote and some times through misinformation, exaggerations, and even paranoia. Campaign advertising in and of itself is brutal to start with, but corporate America is even more brutal in going after what it wants. Corporate America is not about people. It is about money. I have nothing against money. I want as much as I can get my hands on. But I am also aware that money is just what it is. It is money. It serves an important purpose. But it does not represent the general populous. It rarely represents those who do not have an abundance of money. It rarely represents the needs and the values of those who do not earn million dollar bonuses. I am not against the bonuses. I just don’t want our election process to be based upon corporate America’s thirst for money.
In the long run, money does not bring peace. In fact, money seems to bring war. Money does not nurture relationships, in fact, it stirs up conflict in relationships. It does not bring satisfaction, but tends to bring dissatisfaction and entitlement. It does not bring longevity, but often premature death because of the stress that seems to come with lots of money or not enough money. Money will definitely buy you a water proof casket to be buried in.
So I guess the bottom line for me and hopefully for you is to get prepared to use our freedom of speech and SPEAK OUT in future elections when we see Corporate America abusing its freedom of speech.
More by this Author
For the stick in the mud, let’s-get-it-on-and-over-with type, (probably a guy!) spending any amount of time exploring this question could be hard and as boring and perhaps as frustrating as foreplay. So I...