The War on Commerce

Silencing business is real aim of Left’s assault on the Constitution

One of my most remarkable acquaintances is the writer John Nichols. Prolific as a gerbil on methamphetamines, he is an indefatigable cheerleader for the socialist cause. I have studied him closely. Among John’s many gifts is a total lack of irony. Before you can recover from his latest example of situational ethics, he’s on to the next one. It is a useful trait, given his ideology.

Nichols used his bullhorn (actually, one borrowed from the International Socialists) to egg on the mob as it besieged the State Capitol in February-March 2011 to intimidate the representatives duly elected just months before – all in the name of “democracy.” 

For sheer forehead-slapping amazement, it is hard to top his March 11, 2011, column “A clarion call for renewal of democracy.” 

How would John renew democracy? By taking away the First Amendment free speech rights of those with whom he disagrees, particularly the voluntary associations of people organized into corporations. 

Nichols is leading the cheering section for a national movement to overturn the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission by amending the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It’s part of the Left’s war on business (to borrow their favorite metaphor). 

If successful, it would be the first restriction of freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights in its 221 years.

Don’t laugh. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison (a candidate for U.S. Senate), and Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, are on board. So is former Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The 76-member congressional Progressive Caucus signed on this April. Remember President Obama’s tongue-lashing at court members seated in front of him during his State of the Union address?

Retrograde reform

The Progs are in a dither because the high court struck down one of the more noxious provisions of McCain-Feingold’s misnamed Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. The provision required that a corporation’s voice be gagged 60 days before a general election – the very period when such speech is most valuable, the very speech the Constitution sought most to protect: political speech. (Contrary to some claims, the 100-year ban on corporate donations to candidates remains.)

The irony is that Nichols wrote his column in the Sunday Wisconsin State Journal under the standing head “Views of The Capital Times.” In other words, this was the official position of The Capital Times, Inc., as published by Capital Newspapers Inc., which it owns with Lee Enterprises, Inc. 

So we have one corporation using its First Amendment freedoms to encourage denying the free speech of other corporations. Irony? I report, you decide.

What’s that you say? The Capital Times and the State Journal are newspapers and the Constitution refers specifically to “freedom of the press”?

Do newspapers and their employees have more free speech rights than us mere mortals? Must one own a printing press or can one rent? Must I publish daily or could I publish weekly? Monthly? Could I reserve Page 2 of tomorrow’s edition of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel?

Yes, McCain-Feingold exempted newspapers. But “the notion … that modern newspapers, since they are incorporated, have free speech rights only at the sufferance of Congress, boggles the mind,” marveled Justice Scalia.

For the majority, that notorious centrist Justice Kennedy wrote: “We have consistently rejected the proposition that the institutional press has any constitutional privilege beyond that of other speakers.” In this day of online social media, the court noted, everyone is a journalist.

The Move to Amend crowd is besotted with the idea that corporations have free speech because they have been given “personhood.” So a “People’s Rights Amendment” has been introduced in Congress.

Yes, said Justice Scalia, “All the provisions of the Bill of Rights set forth the rights of individual men and women – not, for example, of trees or polar bears. … Surely the dissent does not believe that speech by the Republican Party or the Democratic Party can be censored because it is not the speech of an individual American.” 

The Move to Amend people argue that some have too much speech and others too little – as if government bureaucrats, or worse, incumbent politicians should parcel out speech like rutabagas in Communist Rumania.

The First Amendment is written in terms of “speech, not speakers.” 

The most appalling part of this supposed grass-roots “Move to Amend” is its lack of respect for the intelligence of the voters and their ability to, as we like to say in Wisconsin, sift and winnow for themselves. We’ve seen it before. Whenever our liberal acquaintances start losing the argument, they try to cancel the debate.