|EDITORIAL: Freedom of Speech vs. Equality, Part Three|
|Bill Hudson | 2/28/12|
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|Read Part One|
Maintaining a democracy in a capitalist country — like, say, in America — is a tricky business. Capitalism depends, for its success, upon the accumulation of profits in the hands of private individuals. In some cases, that accumulation of wealth can create a very unequal society — unequal in terms of financial power, and unequal in terms of political influence.
In the most drastic case, the democratic government simply ceases to be democratic and becomes a bureaucracy controlled almost exclusively by corporate interests. Some people argue that America is already in that situation.
I might even argue that myself.
All across the country, small and large groups have been forming over the past two years to propose a Constitutional Amendment of some type, to countermand the Supreme Court decision of 2010 in the CITIZENS UNITED case. One such group, calling itself “Money Out of Politics”, has formed recently here in Pagosa, and has been holding meetings at the UU Fellowship. The group plans to develop a Facebook page and an informational website, I understand.
Constitutional amendments are a pretty ordinary occurrence here in Colorado. Our state constitution has been amended 152 times since its ratification in 1876; that’s an average of more than once a year.
The U.S. Constitution, meanwhile, has seen only 27 amendments since 1789. That’s an average of only about one amendment every decade.
As I noted earlier in this article series, the First Amendment prohibits the Congress from passing any law “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press...”
As disturbing as it might be to some thoughtful Americans, the U.S. Constitution does not even suggest that all people should have the same amount of influence in political decision-making. Yes, the Constitution grants every White Male the very same right to one vote during an election — and thanks to Amendments 14, 15 and 19, that right to vote is also granted to women, and to people of color.
But because we live in a capitalist system, it is a given that some people will be wealthier than others. And in American politics, wealth equates to influence.
There is another factor that also equates to influence, of course: grassroots organizing. An individual or small group with a worthy cause — or an unworthy cause, for that matter — can sometimes overcome the power of corporate influence, simply by using the power of persuasion, and the power of large numbers of voters working towards the same goal.
But more commonly, it is our elected representatives — our Congressmen and Senators — who have attempted to “level the playing field” in terms of political influence. The first laws controlling corporate contributions to election campaigns were passed in 1907, and ever since, there have been various attempts by Congress to limit the power of wealthy persons and large corporations to influence elections.
All of those attempts have more or less failed, for this or that reason — lack of teeth in the legislation, perhaps, or the simple fact that money is extremely fluid and easy to pass around, if one is determined to influence decisions. You can click here to review some of the (generally ineffective) federal legislation that has attempted to control corporate and labor union influence over election processes, excerpted from the book Selling Out by author Mark Green.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights...” Thus begins the preamble — not of the U.S. Constitution, but rather of the Declaration of Independence, a highly inflammatory and traitorous document if there ever was one, in the view of the English Crown.
The statement that “all men are created equal” was meant, of course, as a rejection of King George’s claim to rule by divine right. It’s very clear, from the way the Founding Fathers wrote the U.S. Constitution, that Americans were not meant to be “equal in wealth” or to be “equal in amount of political influence,” but rather, equally entitled to run for office and entitled to one equal vote in an election. We were also intended to have the freedom to speak publicly — unhindered by Congressional controls — about political matters, however we wished to make such speech a priority in our lives.
A Constitutional Amendment that limits corporate participation in electoral politics would be, in my view, impossible to enforce — just as the 18th Amendment proved essentially powerless to control the sale of alcohol in America. In my view, Constitutional amendments are most effective when they specifically control government — and are less effective when they attempt to control individual citizens, or groups of citizens.
The best way to get corporate and labor union influence out of federal politics — if such a thing is even possible — is to decentralize our government, by giving nearly all the governing powers back to the individual States. After all, that’s where the Founding Fathers intended the power to reside when the Constitution was originally written and approved.
The best way to reduce corporate and labor union influence in American politics, in other words, is to reduce and dilute the power of the federal government. And that could best be accomplished, perhaps, by the repeal of the very-simply-worded 16th Amendment:
The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.
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