Of sheeple and super PACs
March 5, 2012 1 Comment
Just the other week, the charmingly hateful Bill Maher announced he was giving $1 million to a super PAC working to re-elect President Obama. Despite his past harangues against the Roberts Supreme Court, Mr. Obama has resigned himself to the reality of unlimited campaign spending for now.
The Citizens United decision that ushered in that reality is deeply unpopular with the public. But what is the alternative? Restrictions on political advertising are inextricably at odds with America’s free speech tradition. Contrary to popular belief, the first amendment does not aim to protect lap dances, the pitching of tents on university quads, or school children’s ability to endorse “bong hits for Jesus.” If nothing else, free speech exists so we may amply criticize our incumbent political leaders. Anyone who remembers Tienanmen square ought to have a natural appreciation for this necessity.
Yet, Americans fear the pernicious effects of too much political speech. Some are concerned for the quality of the speech, but most trepidation is reserved for the idea that rich people and wealthy corporations will have too much power. In reality, there is a healthy split between rich Democrats who want to raise their own taxes and rich Republicans who understand the importance of keeping taxes low. Even from the class war perspective, there is no need to worry that big donors will team up and categorically dominate everyone else. President Obama’s ample 2012 war chest attests to that.
What of the quality of political speech? This election cycle, news media consumers cannot help but be acutely aware of the Republican tit-for-tat. Recall the sensational, anti-capitalist dross that Gingrich supporter Sheldon Adelson financed earlier this year. But in what past golden era were political campaigns not ugly? More to the point, the desire to suppress distasteful or distorted speech through legislated, bureaucratic discernment is chillingly Orwellian.
As the unattributable maxim goes, fight bad speech with good speech. True democrats (lowercase “d”) have nothing to fear, as long we believe our fellow citizens aren’t dumb. But for some reason this pervasive mentality prevails: that millions of dollars of campaign money automatically translate into bought votes, as if people were uncritical voting robots. This is classic “sheeple” thinking, a presumptuous judgement that your fellow countrymen are mere followers who are too blind to apprehend the truth you happen to perceive.
We must appreciate our democracy as a marketplace of ideas, where we test confidently a faith that our fellow citizens are endowed with true decision-making ability and are not bought-and-sold sheeple. To do otherwise would be to shrink into the clutches of tyranny.