How long do we have before we lose the Internet?
I direct you to this column by George F. Will. Complete essay, which is quite long but important for us to discuss, I think:
End Run on Free SpeechIf political speech becomes a privilege, we are doomed!
By George F. Will
Sunday, May 24, 2009
For several decades, most of the ingenuity that liberal academics have invested in First Amendment analysis has aimed to justify limiting the core activity that the amendment was written to protect -- political speech. These analyses treat free speech as not an inherent good but as a merely instrumental good, something justified by serving other ends -- therefore something to be balanced against, and abridged to advance, other goods.
The good for which Zephyr Teachout would regulate speech is combating corruption, which, as she understands it, encompasses most of contemporary politics. A visiting law professor at Duke, writing in the Cornell Law Review ("The Anti-Corruption Principle"), she makes an astonishingly far-reaching argument for emancipating government from First Amendment restrictions on its powers to regulate political speech -- speech about the government's composition and conduct.
Hitherto, most arguments for such emancipation -- for McCain-Feingold and other measures regulating the quantity, content and timing of political speech -- have rested on the supposed need to curb corruption or the "appearance" thereof, with corruption understood as quid pro quo transactions, political favors exchanged for financial favors. But bribery has long been criminalized, and courts are wary about allowing the criminalizing of the constant transactions of mutual support between politicians and factions.
Teachout's capacious definition of corruption includes even an unseemly "attitude" of citizens as well as officeholders "toward public service." She says that the Framers thought limiting corruption was their "primary task." Therefore the "anti-corruption principle" should have "as much weight" as the First Amendment, giving Congress considerable "leeway" to regulate the political "process," which is mostly speech. What Teachout disparagingly calls "the apotheosis of speech" and "the sanctified meme of 'free speech' " is, she says, "a serious problem" requiring a rethinking of "the proper relationship of speech to self-serving public actors."
She advocates, as proponents of an elastic Constitution often do, an "evolving standard," this time a standard about how we define, measure and condemn "self-serving" behavior, aka corruption. This standard might license Congress to restrict speech in order to combat:
"Unequal access" to the political process; "unfair deployment of wealth"; "undue influence" by this or that group; speech that is "distorting" or lacks "proportionality" or results in "drowned voices" or a "passive" or "dispirited" public or that causes a "loss of political integrity" or creates "moral failings for members of Congress." Such speech might not be constitutionally protected if we properly "refine the meaning of the privilege of political speech."
So, political speech is not a right but a privilege, something granted by government when government deems it consistent with what Teachout calls the "equally important" anti-corruption principle. Imagine the "self-serving" uses incumbent legislators might have for the terms in the paragraph above as reasons for restricting political speech.
The word "corruption" or some permutation of it occurs 58 times in the 85 essays that are the Federalist Papers. James Madison wrote not only many of the papers but also this: "Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech." He saw no conflict between that proscription and efforts to minimize corruption. He and other Framers considered corruption a vice requiring constant vigilance precisely because it is inextricably entwined with a virtue, America's vast scope -- constitutionally protected scope -- for self-interested behavior, including political speech.
Congressional Democrats want to kill a small voucher program that gave some mostly poor and minority students alternatives to the District of Columbia's failing public schools, and the Obama administration spent additional billions to avoid a declaration of bankruptcy by General Motors. Some people think both decisions represented disinterested assessments of the public good. Others think the decisions represented obeisance by Democrats to the teachers and autoworkers unions, respectively. If the decisions were such obeisance, they were, by Teachout's standards, corrupt.
If corruption is as ubiquitous as Teachout's standard ("self-serving" behavior) says, then reasons for restricting political speech also are ubiquitous. Under today's regulatory and redistributionist government, which is busily allocating wealth and opportunity, politics frequently "appears" to many people "self-serving." It will not, however, be prettified by regulating speech.
If Teachout considers the politics produced by today's gargantuan government unlovely, she should not try to further enlarge the government by empowering it to comprehensively regulate speech about government. Instead, she should join the movement to restrain government's incessant regulating and redistributing transactions on behalf of myriad factions -- transactions that create more and more clamorous factions. The movement is called conservatism.
ADDENDUM: I just located the following comment to this post here at IBA.
The internet czar will be shutting sites like this down within 18 months, I would guess. Maybe sooner??
Then they will take your guns and no one will be around to report on it, so no one will know.
Sunday, May 31, 2009 3:52:00 AM
I'm not particularly a fan of George F. Will, BTW.
The term "Anti-corruption" is a ploy to avoid using the more popular leftist trope, "class warfare". In other words, as Will points out, they are fighting against corruption which would give wealthy people unequal access. But, the problem is, this "corruption" that they see is merely anyone speaking out for Conservative principles, including the idea that free speech is a God-given right, not a privilege granted to us by our paternalistic/maternalistic government.
The whole idea of Treachout's thesis here is that government is the granter of rights, and ultimately, the source from which all blessings would flow.
This is quite obviously counter to the American Tradition.
What was the purpose of Zephyr Teachout's piece. Is there any evidence that it is being used by the Obama Admin. as a policy piece?
I've looked up Zephyr Teachout. Her main claim to fame is that she ran Howard Dean's internet campaign in 2004.
She is kind of a Liberal gadfly, from what I can tell.
I don't know why Will is writing about her here, unless the argument put forth in her paper is being considered as Obama policy. Honestly, one can find far more extreme Leftist writing in intellectual journals on a monthly basis, so it really is incumbent upon George Will to explain why he is giving this nut the time of day.
I'll check around to see if Will explained somewhere.
The whole idea of Treachout's thesis here is that government is the granter of rights...Isn't that what Statism, in whatever form it takes, advocates?
Yes, it is statism. But, why is Will concerning himself with this nut?
There must be a reason. Will doesn't usually waste his time on Academic nuttery.
I haven't been able to find any more info.
I could email him, I suppose.
I think his points are great. I'm glad you posted this, because it is an important meditation. And, I'm sure George Will has a reason to take Teachout seriously. I just can't figure out what that reason is.
As far as I know, she is not an advisor to the Obama Administration.
So, what is the reasoning here? I hope we can find out.
What boggles the mind is how the media has totally glossed over the potential for censorship and privacy invasions by controlling the Internet with a "cyber czar" but were so vocal in thier concern over the very few international cell phone calls being monitored when they went to hostile nations. Why is it that liberals are unwilling to see how the Obama administration is tightening the noose. First they "offer" to bail out newspapers-which makes the chance of critcism minor. Then they go after talk radio, in order to keep the public away from messages that slow down their deliberate takeover of government with socialist agendas. And finally this, privacy invasion of the internet ostensibly in the name of national security. I think it would do well for us to remember that the Soviets controlled the media in a similar fashion. How long is it going to take for liberals to pull their heads out?
Ellen - because they know that it will be "free speech for me and my friends" and that no conservative voice belongs to a "friend."
Liberals heads are out. They are not the targets of this. It's the moderates and those too busy in their lives and too trusting of their representatives whose heads are "in." They won't be "out" until they find out that their favorite web site or conservative radio show is no longer available. And even then they'll just probably say "oh well" and move on.
Unfortunately it's because we are held to the higher standard that we need to be sure we get the story right. Otherwise we'll be blasted and no one will listen. It sucks big time but it is what it is.
Our challenge is working to change that while changing everything else.
Thi ain't over and we need to stay loud. But focused and factual. The Tea Parties were cohesive but after the election. There's more coming and there are some trying to organize a gun rights on D.C. next spring (not sure where that stands right now). All stuff we need to keep doing to keep in their faces.
If we want Congress to throw the bum out that's how we'll have to do it.
Now then, Carlos and I have some mighty fine Rolling Stones videos, 1 Keith Jarrett and 1 Ray Price that will go mighty nicely with that chilled Pinot (Grigio or Noir, doesn't matter)
I don't see freedom of speech being restricted on the Internet, folks. It's just not going to happen.
I commented earlier on another blog somewhere on this same topic. If it means getting heard and getting the word out, and it means returning to mimeograph if necessary, then by golly we'll do it as a team force.
Sorry, that sounds too much like aqua team hunger force...whatever.
I'm glad to hear what you say. I'm really tired of all the bloggers out there who keep saying "the sky is falling".
As far as I'm concerned, the sky might be falling, but we're not gonna let it. Fuck that. We'll do whatever we have to do to win.
I agree, if it's back to the Mimeograph, then that's it.
If we have to set block type, then fine.
If we have to send messages by carrier pigeon, then crank up the fucking pigeons on crack, and send em a flyin'.
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