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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Misunderstanding Citizens United—Intentional Dissembling or Ignorance?

           After the not-too-surprising victory of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, there were many excuses for the near landslide loss of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.  That’s understandable, denial is usually the first recourse of any losing candidate and in fact the Democrats are still in denial in regard to the outcome of the 2010 elections.  Good.  I hope they stay in denial until November 7th, the day after another sweeping win by conservatives from the top of the ticket to the bottom of the ticket.

As you may recall, President Obama took the opportunity of his 2010 State of the Union message to cross the line of civility and independence of the judiciary to accuse the Supreme Court of having corrupted the political process through the Citizens United ruling.  He is, of course, entitled to disagree with any Supreme Court ruling, however attacking members of the Court during his State of the Union message was unbecoming, at best.  To put the best possible construction on it, his attack was unfounded.  Specifically, he asserted that Citizens United would allow foreign contributions into the American political process.  Of course, he should know something about foreign contributions since his 2008 campaign illegally accepted a number of them.  In fact, however, his attack was false.  Citizens United does not allow foreign contributions to American political candidates.  I don’t think he should get a pass on ignorance of the law as an attorney, a Constitutional lecturer, or as President with access to many attorneys.  Of course, the media did just that.  They gave him a pass on his completely inaccurate statement. There was no critical review or questioning of the truth of his intemperate and uninformed attack.

More recently the argument has been made that Scott Walker’s victory was made possible by the Citizens United decision.  Is this distortion a matter of intentional dissembling or plain ignorance?  It’s hard to tell, but it’s embarrassing to have men and women who hold themselves up as intelligent and informed to report such an untruth.  It’s either a willful political fabrication, or it is gross ignorance—take your choice.

In a June 10, 2012 opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, former federal Judge Michael McConnell set the record straight.  What Judge McConnell reveals is 180 degrees opposite from what the major news media reported following the overwhelming victory of Scott Walker.  To wit, the Citizens United ruling by the US Supreme Court stated that…

“…associations of Americans, including corporations and labor unions, have a First Amendment right to make independent expenditures in support of or opposition to candidates for public office.”

Contrary to what the mainstream media reported, Governor Scott Walker did not receive a huge outpouring a support from corporations.  It did not happen.  However, thanks to Citizens United the unions were freed up to donate millions of dollars to defeat Governor Walker.  Quoting Judge McConnell…

“Labor unions poured money into the state to recall Mr. Walker.  According to the Center for Public Integrity, the NEA (National Education Association), the nation’s largest teachers union, spent at least $1 million.  Its smaller union rival, the AFT (American Federation of Teachers), spent an additional $350,000.  Two other unions the SEIU (Service Employees International Union, which has more than one million government workers) and AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees), spent another $2 million.  Little or none of these independent expenditures endorsing a candidate would have been legal under federal law before Citizens United.”

In other words, the Citizens United decision by the US Supreme Court actually aided those trying to oust Governor Scott Walker more than it aided those supporting Scott Walker.  It turns out that the vast majority of support that Governor Walker received came from small donations from those in Wisconsin and all across the nation.  It was truly a citizens uprising in the best sense and best tradition of America.  His support didn’t come from rowdies who defaced and vandalized the Wisconsin State Capitol.  It didn’t come from a mob that tried to intimidate state legislators with whom they disagreed.  It didn’t come from disorderly agitators who harassed the families of state legislators and the family of Governor Walker.  The response to the angry recall effort spearheaded by the union bosses was rebuffed by peaceful, law-abiding citizens who exercised their right to participate in the political process.  They overwhelmingly endorsed the practical, rational, and realistic actions of the Governor and those supporting him to set state finances on a sustainable and balanced course.  Their vote was not only a reflection of the Tea Party revolt of 2010, but also a harbinger of what you and I can expect this coming November.

There are honest liberals.  I know several of them.  What bothers me is their lack of outrage at the unprofessional, one sided approach of the mainstream media.  If you are an honest liberal do you really want news reporters who either cannot understand or intentionally distort legal cases such as Citizens United?  Do you not see anything wrong with that?  Are you not embarrassed to see either ignorance or willful distortion of truth?  Do you not care about the lack of integrity in the news media?  If you are willing to look the other way, the implicit conclusion one must draw is that you believe that the end justifies the means.

Citizens United is a rather clear cut, easy to understand legal decision.  Liberals certainly have a right to disagree with the decision, but do they expect us to take them seriously when educated reporters distort the meaning of the decision?If it was a conservative who was doing such a thing I would turn them off, tune them out, and scold them for bringing dishonor and embarrassment upon the conservative cause.  Where is the embarrassment on the left?  Where are the honorable liberals scolding their brethren for such a breach of integrity or failure of understanding?

Here is the conclusion of Judge McConnell in his Wall Street Journal piece…

“His [Walker’s] opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, got his support primarily from labor unions, whose participation was legitimized by Citizens United.  Without that decision so demonized by the political left, Mr. Barrett would have been at even more of a financial disadvantage.”

“Speaking generally, Citizens United is likely to benefit Democrats more than Republicans.  Corporations rarely make independent expenditures during candidate elections in their own name, because ads offend customers, workers and shareholders.  And direct corporate contributions to candidates tend to be split more or less evenly between the two parties, largely neutralizing their effect.”

I find it to be extremely frustrating that the left is not committed to honesty, fairness, and objectivity in news reporting.  No one expects a reporter to be perfectly unbiased.  We are all affected by our personal history and personal experiences.  No one is perfect and in fact, no one is more perfect than the next person.  However, an attempt to be objective and truthful should be the least we can expect from our news media.  And let me be perfectly clear, I am talking about those who purport to report the news, not opinion columnists and talk show hosts whose publicized intent is to convey their opinions, backed up by facts.  I am referring solely to those charged with making an honest attempt to present the news in a fair, balanced and objective manner.

When there is no attempt to be honest in public discourse and there is an unwillingness to calmly, rationally, and intelligently discuss different points of view, democracy suffers.  Too often the left resorts to name calling when they are unable to defend their political position.  Instead of accepting the fact that the other side has just as good of intentions as they do, is just as smart, and has ideas worth considering, they start slandering their opponents.  They charge racism, sexism, and who-knows-what-else “ism” because they are apparently unable to frame a cogent and persuasive argument on behalf of their opinion.

Until and unless we have liberals willing to stop the slander and instead argue their case on its merits, there will be no civil discourse in America.  The ball is in their court.  If you want to talk about quality education, school choice must be in the discussion.  If you want to talk about providing entry level jobs to the poor, then the elimination of minimum wage laws must be considered.  If you want to talk about restoring and rebuilding families in poor areas, then encouraging nuclear families must be on the table.  If economics is the topic, a rational discussion of the importance of balancing the budget and spending only what you have is in order.  If you want to advance environment issues you must be open to a fair and honest scientific debate.  Whether the issue is safety, child discipline, transportation, welfare, the environment, or any other topic, progress will be made only if the name calling stops and serious discussion begins.  Without intellectual honesty there can be no meeting of the minds.

And as long as honest liberals look the other way when more radical brethren intentionally distort or are intellectually unable to distinguish the truth, our ability to arrive at the best solutions will be permanently impaired.  I suspect it is a fear that their ideas will not triumph in honest debate that drives liberals and radicals to slander their opponents and to discard their sense of justice and honesty.  Vandalism, occupying property, and other disorderly conduct is an indictment of bankrupt ideas, not a sign of “democracy in action” as one leftist teacher at the Wisconsin State Capitol put it. 

You and I both know that the end never justifies the means.  We know that slander is simply wrong.  We know that not telling the truth is simply a lie.  We know that breaking the law or acting as bullies should not be a part of the political process.  We should expect no less from our political opponents.

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