Monday, February 01, 2010

First Amendment for All

Let us begin by saying that Floyd Abrams-the lawyer who successfully argued the overturning of the McCain-Feingold law before the Supreme Court-is a hero of ours. He is someone whose belief in the First Amendment isn't governed by situational ethics. And those critics of the court's ruling, from the president, to the double standard bearers over at the NY Times, ought to be ashamed of themselves.

Here's Abrams in an interview at the WSJ (via Contentions): "And my reaction is sort of a John McEnroe: You cannot be serious! We’re talking about the First Amendment here, and we’re being told that an extremely vituperative expression of disdain for a candidate for president is criminal in America?"

And, as Jennifer Rubin goes on to point out: "But his essential point, which has eluded the former constitutional law professor who now occupies the Oval Office, is that what is at stake here is core protected political speech. But Obama is not alone in missing (or choosing to miss) the point. As Abrams notes, nearly all media outlets roundly criticized the Court’s ruling. Abrams opines that the reason is two-fold: journalists don’t understand that they work for corporations (which were protected by the Court’s decision) and they confuse “democracy” (or more precisely, a sort of populist leveling in which elections are micro-managed to enforce a level playing field) with the proper constitutional interpretation of the First Amendment. And of course, they don’t appreciate the competition that may come from unions and corporations choosing to inject information the press hasn’t seen fit to print."

This doesn't phase the former movie critic over at the NY Times-a man with a deep understanding of political philosophy and public policy he learned eating popcorn at the cinema: "HANDS down, the State of the Union’s big moment was Barack Obama’s direct hit on the delicate sensibilities of the Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. The president was right to blast the 5-to-4 decision giving corporate interests an even greater stranglehold over a government they already regard as a partially owned onshore subsidiary. How satisfying it was to watch him provoke Alito into a “You lie!” snit. Here was a fight we could believe in."

Sure it is, after all, the Times folks prefer their protected monopoly status. And doesn't Rich get the fact that he writes only at the sufferance of the corporate interests of the NY Times? As soon as that corporation feels he is no longer someone they feel comfortable giving a platform to, he will be back reviewing Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeaquel.

Of course Rich has an interest in obfuscating just how partisan an operation the NY Times really is. As we have pointed out, the Times, after lionizing the former mayor Giuliani as his term wound down, couldn't wait to do an about face and demonize him as he tried to win the Republican nomination. The stark contrast-not to mention the complete 180-between the paper's paean to a retiring Giuliani, and its vicious ad hominem attack in the 2008 election cycle, underscores the extent to which the court's ruling on campaign speech is truly a breathe of fresh air.

Having a more diverse chorus of voices in an election process is certainly not in the interests of a paper that has already suffered badly as folks have jumped ship to less partisan or more interesting news outlets; but it is in the interest of a more robust democratic process. The voices heard will be no more or less partisan or shrill than those of the NY Times, and its writers who believe that they, and they alone, should have constitutionally protected speech .