Defining cheap speech

To the Editor:

I am really not sure where to start, in critique of your recent editorial "Defining Free Speech." I suppose I could point out that you actually make no such attempt in your pitiful flogging of your political opposites. I could just point to your complete mischaracterization that "the U.S. Supreme Court held that labor unions and left wing advocacy corporations were free to spend money to air their views of politicians and public issues" when, in fact, the group Citizen's United is the exact opposite of that. I might even take issue with the fact that, as a newspaper that similarly benefits from the protection of the First Amendment, you might pretend it weren't so subject to the polarizing rhetoric you typically employ.

Instead I will focus on the big fat fallacy this debate is about allowing rights to one group (unions) and denying them to others (corporations). That contention is silly and misleading. To be sure, some liberal people, particularly those who are pro-union, may try to draw a distinction between the two, but that is by no means the crux of the argument against Citizens United.

One need not be a constitutional scholar to agree with the proposition that "corporations are not people." That is because they are not. They are literally a fictional entity created for exclusively purpose of shareholder value and/or generation of profit. IBM can't be arrested -- it has no body. IBM can't believe in God -- it has neither a mind nor a heart. IBM can't bear arms -- it has no arms to carry them. IBM can't confront witnesses against it -- it has no stare. There is no jury of IBM's peers. All the protections of the Bill of Rights are directed at individuals, not corporations. That's because corporations are a perpetual apparition created, almost exclusively, to organize ownership for the purpose of profit and corporate direction. Corporations are necessary and essential part of our country, they just aren't people.

You state with pride your observation that corporations are an assembly of people. To be sure, those investors are people that have the right to free speech, but there is no reason for a separate right of speech for their special purpose endeavor of profit. But your straw-man ad hominem attacks are totally irrelevant, as the real issue is whether individuals (I suppose we can all agree they are people) should reasonably fear the impact of inconceivably large amounts of money directed to the sole purpose of electing certain people. Doesn't this give rise to the reasonable fear that a large corporation, which has a legal obligation to its shareholders to create return on investments, might seek actual return on their investments in elections? Isn't it at least worth debate?

The First Amendment, in my view, has always been about insuring the rights of the few against the many. In enables one to speak to truth to power. It probably shouldn't be aimed at letting power speak directly. It is simply about making sure a person can say what they feel, believe their honest beliefs, and befriend whomever they like. But your feckless attempts to paint this as an attack on the rights of one group over another have no place in real debate over money in elections. A newspaper should take better care of its duty to the citizen's reading it. You never defined "free speech" but you certainly exemplify "cheap speech."

Leonard Milligan

Brighton, Mass. & McIndoe Falls, Vt.


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