I'm in favor of censorship. That makes me something of a pariah in American society. Fortunately, thanks to its endorsement this week of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, the Supreme Court is in favor of censorship, too. Unfortunately, the court favors the wrong kind of censorship.
Let me back-up for a second: We're all in favor of censorship. If you think it should be illegal for broadcast networks to program hardcore porn, you're in favor of censorship. If you don't think neo-Nazis should be allowed to make presentations at your kid's public school's career day, you are pro-censorship.
So the real issue isn't whether you are "for" or "against" censorship. The relevant question is, What do you want to censor? Or, how much censorship are you willing to tolerate?
Unfortunately, this country has become so contorted in its thinking about free speech, we've come to believe that censorship is merely the limitation of speech we like. If we think some words are bad, we simply call it "hate speech," and, well, who doesn't want to ban "hate"?
And, if we think some forms of speech do bad things, but we don't want to ban them outright, we simply regulate them.
But when it comes to free expression, "regulations" are just a clever way to champion censorship while dodging the word.
For example, if Congress said, "You cannot criticize the government," we'd all run to the parapets and scream bloody murder about censorship. But if Congress said instead, "There shall be no criticism of the government on days that end in "y." Well, that's not censorship that's just regulation! You're free to say whatever you want about the government, just so long as you don't say it on any of the seven days that happen to end in "y."
As you've no doubt heard, the Supreme Court has just upheld the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, better known as McCain-Feingold. The BCRA severely restricts the abilities of groups to speak in ways that matter at moments that matter.
The details have been hashed out a zillion times. But the gist is: Groups like the National Rifle Association, the Sierra Club, the ACLU and the NAACP will have a much more difficult time expressing their political views or criticizing politicians during an election season.
The intent is clearly censorious. John McCain has admitted, "If you cut off the soft money, you are going to see a lot less of (attack ads)." Marty Meehan, a major proponent of the law in the House, explained it was necessary to go after the ads airing right before the election, "because that's when people are paying attention."
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