I like to be the type of person that forgives and forgets. I find that doing so makes my life easier, as I don’t have to remember who I’m angry at, or why I’m angry. Unfortunately, some people like to remind me that they’ve done something that I didn’t like, and even inflame my anger further by continuing to do that which bothered me in the first place. Our president has done just this.
A number of months ago, we all saw the news about Justice Alito mouthing his silent protest to the President’s characterization that the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United vs. FCC would lead to foreign corporations being able to contribute to issue campaigns in the United States. As a fan of the Court, and no great supporter of our President’s policies, or of him personally (though I base that largely on his policies, not on personal experience) I was not happy that most of the reaction was chastising Justice Alito, rather than calling the President out, as his breach of decorum was a thousand times more overt. (even if he did preface it with lip service to “all due deference to separation of powers.”)
Well, after eight months, I had mostly forgotten about the incident. If I had to go back and think through the things our President has done between January and now, I would probably not come up with this incident. The President hasn’t let it go though. In his weekly address, he decided to bring it up again. He decided to target “shadowy groups with harmless sounding names.”
Putting aside that this is a classic straw-man argument, he goes on to use several other rhetorical arguments I can only assume are intended to prey on the fear of the unknown to gain support for legislation he wants to have passed. He talks about how corporations can “buy millions of dollars worth of TV ads.” Of course, the US census paid $2.5 Million of taxpayer money to buy 30 seconds of airtime during the Superbowl for what I found to be a nonsensical commercial without any real objective, and generally awful. Millions of dollars of TV ads is simply not that much, but without the proper context, something the President was counting on, it seems like something that it isn’t.
He went on to talk about how “worst of all, they don’t even have to reveal who is paying for them. You don’t know if it’s a foreign controlled corporation. You don’t know if it’s BP. You don’t know if it’s a big insurance company or a Wall Street bank. A group can hide behind a phony name like Citizens for a Better Future,” even if a more accurate name would be “Corporations for Weaker Oversight.”
Now, even if I dislike BP, or insurance companies, or Wall Street, or even a group called Corporations for Weaker Oversight (Couldn’t he have picked “Straw-men companies you all hate”?) I find it hard to understand why they should be restricted from expressing their views on a particular issue, or candidate, but then, I seem to hold different opinions on to key factors than our President does.
The first of these is that ideas with merit will take root, and those that are without merit will fail. Mark Packard recently wrote a post about that idea. If we assume that adults in this country are capable of assessing the merit of an idea, there should be little reason to fear that an advertisement paid for by anyone should be cause for alarm. (yes, if I try I can come up with some wonderfully conspiratorial situations in which foreign powers could install sleepers into our government and take over, but the Manchurian Candidate has been written and made into a film twice already, so I’ll leave conspiracy to Vince Flynn and Tom Clancy.) It is only when one assumes that we are so easily fooled that we must be protected that it matters who is behind an idea. While I am loath to say, with any sort of authority, what the President thinks of the cognitive abilities of American citizens, he is the one that is concerned about the republicans “trying to bamboozle you, hoodwink you… …[and] okie doke you.”
The other important point on which we disagree is the nature of a corporation. The president characterizes corporations as “shadowy groups with harmless-sounding names.” He seems to want to paint a picture that these are conspiratorial organizations from whom we need to be protected, lest they “okie doke” us. The President has undoubtedly taken more law classes than I have, but he seems to have missed something that we spent a fair amount of time on.
Corporations are groups of people who have decided of their own volition to pool their resources in hopes of gaining some sort of profit that they would not be able to obtain as separate individuals. It really is that simple. Corporations are inherently amoral. The level of good or evil inherent in a corporation is the same as the aggregate level of good or evil inherent in its people. As such, a corporation’s speech can be interpreted as being representative of the speech of those individuals who make up the corporation.
There is of course the possibility that a corporation may do things that an individual does not like. It may support something that the shareholders don’t, or it may say something the shareholders vehemently disagree with. In either case, the shareholders recourse is to either influence the organization internally, or divest themselves of their voluntary association with the organization.
You’ll notice that neither of those were to silence the corporation by governmental oversight. Since the corporation is made of individuals, the rights of the individual become vested in the corporation. Few would feel that it would make sense to deny a corporation the right to not quarter soldiers without its consent in a time of peace except as permitted by law. If the third amendment applies to a corporation by virtue of its nature as an organization of citizens each possessing that right, why should it be different for the rights enjoyed by the first amendment.
Given that the rights protected by the Constitution are, as stated in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence, inalienable, it makes little sense that our President continues to deride the Supreme Court for deciding to not make the formation of a corporation grounds for which one is alienated from one’s rights. I’m sure I’ll forgive and forget at some point, but it may not be until tomorrow.