Monday, February 22, 2010

Citizens United Fallacy

The Citizens United decision continues to reverberate as Congress tries to decide how it can overrule the Supreme Court on constitutional law, which is in itself an interesting concept. In case you’ve forgotten, that is the Supreme Court decision removing limits on corporate campaign donations.

My initial reaction was dismay, but reading Glenn Greenwald on the subject lent some balance; the right to free speech is a vital component of what we call “freedom.” Then Lawrence Lessig pointed out that corporations, unlike persons, are a creation of the state and might therefor not be considered to have the rights of persons who are created by “their Creator.” Except that courts have determined for more than a century that corporations have the rights of persons, and in my view the right of political speech is implied in that it is specifically traded for tax exemption in the case of 501(c)3's.

At any rate, all of the horror over the impact of this decision, being that corporations will simply flood the airwaves with advertisement and "buy" elections for their favored candidates, has one basic flaw. It assumes that all that is needed to win an election is sheer volume of advertising. Apparently voters have some sort of counters in their heads and whichever candidate trips the counter with more advertisements gets their vote. The voter stands in the voting booth and says, “I have seen 874 commercials for Candidate A and 623 for Candidate B, so I will vote for Candidate A.”

If that is true, then democracy (small d) in this nation has already failed and the Citizens United decision is irrelevant, because we are championing a form of government in which the governed receive the benefits of a free society without accepting any responsibility for maintaining it. It is only a matter of time before such a society becomes, at best, an oligarchy.

There is considerable evidence that voters in this country have, at best, poor voting habits anyway. We talk about the “low information voter” as if that meant, maybe, what color shirts they wear rather than that they represent a failure of democracy. Same for the “single issue voter” who votes for a candidate because of that person’s stance on, say, abortion, without knowing or caring about that person’s stance on any other issue facing the governance of this nation. In polls, a person calls himself a “conservative,” but when questioned on individual policies he gives the liberal’s answer on each one of them. People carry signs saying “Keep government’s hands off my Medicare.”

But voting based simply on counting the numbers of commercials?

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