George Will

"Unequal access" to the political process; "unfair deployment of wealth"; "undue influence" by this or that group; speech that is "distorting" or lacks "proportionality" or results in "drowned voices" or a "passive" or "dispirited" public or that causes a "loss of political integrity" or creates "moral failings for members of Congress." Such speech might not be constitutionally protected if we properly "refine the meaning of the privilege of political speech."

So, political speech is not a right but a privilege, something granted by government when government deems it consistent with what Teachout calls the "equally important" anti-corruption principle. Imagine the "self-serving" uses incumbent legislators might have for the terms in the paragraph above as reasons for restricting political speech.

The word "corruption" or some permutation of it occurs 58 times in the 85 essays that are the Federalist Papers. James Madison wrote not only many of the papers but also this: "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech." He saw no conflict between that proscription and efforts to minimize corruption. He and other Framers considered corruption a vice requiring constant vigilance precisely because it is inextricably entwined with a virtue, America's vast scope -- constitutionally protected scope -- for self-interested behavior, including political speech.

Congressional Democrats want to kill a small voucher program that gave some mostly poor and minority students alternatives to the District of Columbia's failing public schools, and the Obama administration spent additional billions to avoid a declaration of bankruptcy by General Motors. Some people think both decisions represented disinterested assessments of the public good. Others think the decisions represented obeisance by Democrats to the teachers' and autoworkers' unions, respectively. If the decisions were such obeisance, they were, by Teachout's standards, corrupt.

If corruption is as ubiquitous as Teachout's standard ("self-serving" behavior) says, then reasons for restricting political speech also are ubiquitous. Under today's regulatory and redistributionist government, which is busily allocating wealth and opportunity, politics frequently "appears" to many people "self-serving." It will not, however, be prettified by regulating speech.

If Teachout considers the politics produced by today's gargantuan government unlovely, she should not try to further enlarge the government by empowering it to comprehensively regulate speech about government. Instead, she should join the movement to restrain government's incessant regulating and redistributing transactions on behalf of myriad factions -- transactions that create more and more clamorous factions. The movement is called conservatism.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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