Commentary Magazine


The Precarious First Amendment

The DISCLOSE Act — a nefarious attempt to do through the backdoor that which the Supreme Court barred by the front door, namely government regulation of First Amendment–protected speech — is dead for now. It is a lesson in how precarious (57-41 was the cloture vote) is our attachment to basic constitutional values. Well, you say, the Supreme Court would have struck it down, just as the justices did the core of McCain-Feingold. Perhaps — if the current Court composition remained in tact. And if Justice Kennedy woke up on the right side of the bed. But, again, it would have been close.

This, I think, should alarm and not reassure us. The name of the game for far too many elected liberals is to game the system, tip the scales, and trample on the rights of their opponents. It is the same mentality we see when a Senate candidate tries to take down perfectly reasonable ads that raise unpleasant facts about his record. Rather than debate and employ more speech, it has become too common among liberals wary of the wrath of voters to tell everyone else to shut up. It is the same mentality that causes Democratic congressional leadership to vilify and sneer at fellow citizens and label them un-American for exercising basic rights of assembly and speech on the most hotly debated legislation (ObamaCare) of the moment. It is the same mentality that motivates the White House to ostracize a news organization critical of its performance.

The totalitarian impulse of the left is not a pretty sight. The voters and people of goodwill on both sides of the political aisle should declare, “Enough!” The “solution” to speech that one doesn’t like is more speech. We forget that at our peril.