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November 16, 2011

Inbox — Nov. 16, 2011

Letters to the Editor

High Probe
John Hightower was indeed in a high tower when he deposed the First Amendment (LEO Weekly, Nov. 9). Here are 10 quick queries to probe his philosophy:

1) Are nonprofits as evil as for-profits, and should they be banned from speaking as well?

2) Who gets to decide which groups are banned from speaking?

3) When the speech police become too powerful, shall we ban them, too?

4) Once we’ve replaced the speakers-that-be with the speakers-that-ought-to-be, isn’t it likely somebody somewhere will resent the newly ascendant?

5) Don’t corporations have lots of clout because a lot of people buy their products, thereby ratifying the relevance of their concerns at the public table?

6) Wasn’t the 2008 presidential election a comparable bargain at $1 billion? (We spend as much on a single Stealth Fighter, and spent $2 billion on Easter candy last year.)

7) In an age of 1,000 cable channels, Twitter, Facebook and the cacophony of Internet offerings, how can it not take large sums of money to amplify a group’s message to reach a wider number of people?

8) Should the taxpayers be required to support whoever runs for office, for whatever platform they choose, regardless of popularity?

9) Does the fact that money is not speech entail that speech is a zero-sum game, where the speech of the powerful destroys the speech of the weak?

10) If this is indeed the case, then shouldn’t speech be regulated so that the powerful only get so much airtime?

There is the final problem that not everyone is as intelligent or eloquent as everyone else, hence some people have already been disenfranchised by genetics. Hence people should be taxed per syllable so that money will not sully speech.
John Linton, Germantown

Not Free Speech
As Jim Hightower’s Nov. 9 article pointed out, the U.S. Supreme Court has adopted Mitch McConnell’s definition of free speech. The more money you can afford to spend on access to TV and radio, the more free speech you get. Conversely, no money means no speech.

There are alternative concepts of free speech, but the court rejects them. One such alternative suggested many times by advocates of campaign finance reform is commonly known as “the even playing field.” The basic idea is to provide some free access or public funding for opposing points of view so that the voters get to hear more than one side of public issues.

But, the court says that is not freedom because it doesn’t resemble a laissez faire marketplace. This line of reasoning is derived from 18th century economic theory. You won’t find it anywhere in the text of our Constitution, though. It comes from previous court decisions known collectively as judicial precedent.

Ironically, many historians believe that our founders recognized three aspects of freedom — freedom from “despotic government,” freedom from “the tyranny of the majority” and “public liberty” or the freedom to participate in self-governance. They addressed all three in our Constitution by providing us systems of checks and balances, rights to due process and First Amendment guarantees.

So, the court trumps our founders. The majority of the current justices say there is only one aspect of free speech, and that’s all we get.
Tom Louderback, Highlands