Unhinged Opposition to Citizens United Ruling - Revealing, But Unhelpful

In the end, disagreement with the recent Supreme Court opinion on political speech can only be rooted in a lack of confidence in individuals and the American electorate.  It presumes voters are too weak and "too stupid" to self-govern.

I don't place absolute faith in the electorate - it certainly gets things "wrong" in the eyes of history and my subjective conception of things.  It's not always the most informed.  It doesn't always have the best of intentions.  But I think it has a certain "horse sense," if you will, at the very least.  It can smell danger, and it can self-correct.  It mediates our politics - acts as a great body of water moderating the otherwise wild, continental temperature swings in the political apparatus.

That's why, especially in this time of increased rates of higher education, a time when we've grown increasingly skeptical of our national politicians of all stripes, I find the bitter, venomous, generally unhinged reaction to the Supreme Court's opinion in Citizens United to be complete overkill.  Especially this piece by John Nichols in Wisconsin's Capital Times.  And Ed Garvey's hyperbolic allusions to Plessy v. Ferguson.  And Mike McCabe's absurd invocation of Dred Scott.  And Mike Plaisted's oversimplified, emotion-based diatribe.

First, if we step back far enough, we should take comfort that corporate conglomerations of wealth are even working within our political system.  Comparatively speaking, even a Progressive's post-Citizens United worst case nightmare is better than having a system akin to the one prevalent in Russia in the 1990s and 2000s - a plutocracy of corporate bosses who refused to operate within the overarching political structure.  Getting nodes of power to play within a legal framework and a political framework puts corporate or union influence up for potential public inspection, especially if sufficient disclosure measures are in place.

Second, the change wrought by the decision will likely be in the shape of a shift of wealth already influencing the political sphere, as opposed to an actual influx of additional corporate (and, remember, union) monies.  As Politico notes:

But the reality is likely to be something more modest, mainly a shifting of cash that’s already in the system away from so-called 527 groups.

Third, the ruling does not permit direct corporate treasury donations to candidates' campaigns - it permits them to run ads in elections in support of or in opposition to various candidates.  Thus, crucially, this ruling does not hand various entities actual political power.  It's allowing them to speak in the marketplace that the electorate ultimately looks to in making its decision about which candidate to back in the end.  Voters still get to mediate any corporate speech.  Massive corporate or union television support may be just as likely to backfire as it is to succeed - provided there is adequate disclosure (which I do think is essential to making the new paradigm work in a way that enhances the value of political speech in the market).

Fourth, any discussion of stare decisis, a worthwhile one, is complicated by the conflicting SCOTUS precedents involved in this issue - for example, the Austin case, overruled in Citizens United, was itself arguably unfaithful to the earlier precedent in Buckley v. Valeo.  Thus, assertions that "the majority had no legal basis whatsoever" and "blazed through" precedent are rather flimsy - mostly driven by detractors' general policy of hating on corporations in most respects.  One of the hypos at oral arguments revealed the the dark side of the then existing law on corporate donations - potentially allowing bans on pamphlets or books put out by corporations.  The majority opinion in Citizens United is very speech protective.  And for anyone who has problems with "money as speech", read this - it's about the dangers of regulating money that facilitates speech in the end.

Fifth, the obsession with the "corporations as persons" concept misses the point.  It's about the speech in the end.  No matter who or what is speaking, it's about having a marketplace of speech out of which the electorate can sift and winnow toward some sort of political truth. It's about aggregating many interests, voices, and perspectives so as to permit a more wholistic assessment of issues and candidates.  And it's about ultimately placing the responsibility of sussing everything out on individual voters as aided by the news media, bloggers, etc.  Again, disclosure is a crucial component - the electorate must be able, in some fashion, to connect speech with speakers so as to gauge its veracity and relevance.  Although even anonymous speech has had an important role in the history of American political discourse.

I haven't even finished reading the opinions in Citizens United, but from my extensive reading of the coverage firestorm surrounding the case - even the President has taken part with a very dumbed down, politically calculated response - I think the backlash is looking increasingly like one big melodrama.