I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
Propaganda does not equal free speech
When it came to being persuasive, credibility used to be the guiding principle. If an orator, a philosopher, or a politician wasn’t credible, he wasn’t convincing either. Credibility was based on character, intelligence, integrity, knowledge, and most of all, on independence.
Only free individual human beings, or advocates for the rights of individuals, can have authentic credibility. When we don’t think for ourselves, however, we become political dummies for the ventriloquism of ideologues and the propaganda of their secretive rich sponsors.
Organizations of all kinds who assert their right to “free speech,” equating persuasion with money and the mind tricks of the advertising that money can buy, have no credibility.
Who in his right mind believes political advertising? All anyone has to do is consider the source.
The differences between free speech and propaganda will be an unspoken part of a heated debate before the Supreme Court this week when it begins hearing arguments on a case called Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. At issue will be the supposed first amendment rights of corporate and other legal entities to spend all the money they want opposing or supporting political candidates with direct political advertising.
Commercial propaganda techniques put to the service of political view points clutter up the market place of ideas. And yet both the business community and constitutional watchdogs like the ACLU support the basic idea that spending money freely is analogous to speaking freely.
The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, calls campaign finance regulation “thought control.” But that, of course, puts big money not only in the category of speech, but of thought. And that’s incredible and dismissible. Groups don’t think, or speak. They mouth what they are told to, or what they, as a whole, have agreed upon. And there is always a question as to how an agreement was reached and by whom, and who believes in it or merely acquiesces to it.
The Supreme Court could overturn numerous laws evolved over decades that keep corporations and unions from directly funding political ads. At issue is a film called “Hillary: The Movie,” a blatant piece of political propaganda directed against the presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton, and produced by Citizens United, a right wing political group. Who funds Citizens United is hard to find out. Is it a front group for some mighty big money, for corporate money, for pro-fascists, for some church? It’s all left up to the imagination. They are a 501-c3, however, and are tax exempt. But if you don’t know where the money is coming from no one should take the propaganda seriously. And propaganda, itself, should never be taken at face value.
In June, when the Supreme Court first heard arguments in the Hillary case, it decided to expand the inquiry and to use the case as a platform from which to explore the whole concept of campaign advertising restrictions, rather than base judgment on the case brought before it. This is flagrant “judicial activism,” a term used normally against liberal justices. But this strange and irregular broadening of the case is a conservative notion, as far as the court is concerned.
Lumping group speak with individual speech as its protected by the First Amendment is intellectually specious.
Only individuals have the ability to think for themselves, to weigh arguments and evidence, and to even change their minds. Only individuals have the capacity for true independence, to go against their own specific interests, let’s say, for the good all. Only individuals can make such sacrifices. Corporations don’t. Labor Unions don’t. Political parties, public and private lobbyists, and experts for hire do not. Their independence must always be questioned. They invariably allow ends to justify means, and often employ any means, short of murder, to make their point. More troubling, while wealthy persons might avail themselves of the expertise of a public relations company to do their thinking for them, most of them do not. And even the wealthy often think and speak impromptu. Group speak is almost invariably PR speak. And that lacks, almost invariably, any credibility whatsoever.
That’s why free speech is the inalienable right of human beings, not “juristic persons,” a concept unknown to the First Amendment of Constitution. Speech and thought are individual human attributes. Legal entities can only “speak” across a spectrum of propaganda. Truth is not in their purview. They have no character, no conscience, no soul. All they have is a lot of money, which buys them the chance at a lot of power.
If the Supreme Court overturns the McCain-Feingold restrictions on unlimited political advertising by corporations, unions, and other group speakers, there would an array of interesting implications, some of which include:
–The unintended consequences of group speakers who go against the those who brought them to the dance. Corporations, in particular, are loyal to no political party. They could turn on Republicans and conservatives as fast as they’ve turned against liberals while covertly supporting Democratic corporate Clintonistas, or as fast as they’ve turned against blather mouth Glen Beck.
–If group speakers are required to identify themselves in their advertising (as in “this piece of biased balderdash is brought to you by Slick Oil), then voters can make their own assessment of credibility. If groups speakers are allow to hide their identity and create infomercials that purport to be the truth, then confusion and misinformation will utterly corrupt elections in America. Many of us already suspect our election system is rigged.
–If restrictions on group speakers funding political ads is lifted then local businesses, local groups, local unions, local associations of all kinds could also fund ad campaigns for or against specific candidates. An advertising campaign is much more potent than a mere endorsement. But endorsements keep voters away from candidates as much as they draw them in. And a vicious ad campaign can backfire.
–If the Supreme Court abandons all campaign finance restrictions without requiring that sponsors take credit for the ads, then the often savage recklessness that anonymity breeds among those who comment on the Internet will descend upon local, as well as national, politics, and infect it with the brutal drivel that people spew when they are not held accountable for what they say.
Only individuals and groups who identify themselves have a chance at being credible. That’s why the murky anonymity of the backers of Citizens United casts a pall on the validity on the Hillary suit itself. Why did the Supreme Court choose this particular case to reexamine campaign advertising restrictions in general? Has the court’s conservative majority been corrupted by invisible corporate forces?