As reported in the above-linked Reuters article, the Supreme Court yesterday gave the green light to unlimited spending on election media blitzes by corporations and anyone else with deep enough pockets. One quote from the article says it best:
“It is a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans,” Obama said.
Never mind Obama’s party affiliation. He’s right. This ruling strikes down the concept of “free speech” and makes “speech” a commodity for sale to the highest bidder.
But let’s back up a little and begin with the first amendment, upon which the court’s ruling is based:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
This amendment was adopted in 1791. At that time, radio had not yet been invented. There was no electronic media. Movable-type printing presses had barely evolved from Gutenberg’s original invention, and were still limited to a rate of about 250 sheets per hour. The most recent presidential election in 1789 was actually our nation’s first. It was uncontested and George Washington was elected our first president.
In short, the writers of the first amendment had absolutely no clue how elections would be contested even then, much less 220 years later. They envisioned campaign advertising that consisted of flyers posted in the town square, free speech meant the right to stand up on a stump and say whatever you want, and the right to peaceably assemble meant gathering around the guy on the stump to hear what he had to say. Never in their wildest dreams did they imagine that speech could be commoditized, sold to the highest bidder and pounded into our heads through electronic media blitzes. They couldn’t envision a future in which money was speech and massive global corporations would be interpreted to be “the people” or even an assemblage of the people.
In 1791 it was inconceivable that the human population could ever explode to the point where every square foot of land and every resource would be pressed into service to keep our economy going. The western boundaries of the American continent were scarcely known. It’d be another twelve years before the Lewis and Clark expedition would explore the Louisiana Purchase. And, beyond a handful of intellectuals in Europe, the field of economics didn’t even exist. It’d be another 26 years before the first economic theories regarding foreign trade would be proposed.
Since that time, our constitution has been amended seventeen times, bringing to twenty-eight the total number of amendments. These subsequent amendments (beyond the original ten in the Bill of Rights, adopted in 1791) have dealt with issues mundane and profound, ranging from pay raises for Congress to the abolition of slavery and the authorization of the federal income tax. But since 1950, only five amendments have been adopted. In the last 39 years, there has been only one, limiting congressional pay raises.
The antiquity of the provisions of the constitution and its amendments, which provides the basis for supreme court decisions like this most recent one, is distorting our democracy in a way that threatens our survival as a nation. With yesterday’s ruling, the court has unwittingly tilted power in favor of the faction which benefits by unlimited population growth to the detriment of individual citizens. The court doesn’t understand the break that occurred in the interests of corporations versus the interests of individual citizens when a critical population density was breached. Nor do they care. Their purpose is to interpret rules established by people who lived in a world that no longer exists and blindly apply them to a world our founding fathers couldn’t even imagine. It’s the constitution and its amendments that are the problem, not the Supreme Court.
Our constitution is in desperate need of overhaul and further amendments. The two I’ve proposed on this blog, the 28th and 29th amendments, would go a long way toward sustaining our prosperity for generations to come.