Home > Uncategorized > Demagogues to the Left of Me…

Demagogues to the Left of Me…

Not too long ago, a friend of mine posted a link to a website on his facebook page. The link was to a group called Move to Amend, a project of the Campaign to Legalize Democracy. (movetoamend.org) His immediate reason for posting the link was the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. F.E.C., 558 U. S. ____ (2010). So, I hied myself off to the site and had a good look around. What I found alternately saddened and frightened me.

The site claims that in Citizens United, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are persons, entitled by the U.S. Constitution to buy elections and run our government. They also claim that the Supreme Court is misguided in principle, and wrong on the law; and that in a democracy, the people rule. They also want to amend our Constitution to:

  • Firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.
  • Guarantee the right to vote and to participate, and to have our votes and participation count.
  • Protect local communities, their economies, and democracies against illegitimate “preemption” actions by global, national, and state governments.

There are a number of things wrong with their claims, ranging from the simplistic to the demagogic. The simple one is familiar to anyone who’s read any of my stuff. The claim that America is, or should be, a democracy. Anyone who has taken any class in civics, or history, should know enough to know that America is a republic, not a democracy. It would be impossible to run an organization the size of America as a democracy. Can you imagine trying to organize 200 million voters to vote on Charlie Rangel’s ethics issues? Madness.

Let’s look at the meatier stuff. Did Citizens United rule that corporations are persons? We’ll leave out the absurd part about buying elections and running our government. Citizens United is 187 pages long. I’ve read the entire ruling, including dissents and concurrences. Nowhere does the court rule that corporations are people, nor could they, since that question wasn’t before them. They did recognize, that in some case, corporations were persons in a legal sense. The court also continued the distinction between natural people, like you and me, and legal people like corporations. Nowhere in the ruling does it state that corporations can “buy” elections.

What the ruling does say is that corporations, as well as other legal entities like unions and not-for-profit associations, can not be prohibited from spending money on campaigning and issue advocacy. They relied largely on the first amendment, which makes no mention of people, except in the section on assembly. The first amendment says that “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech.” The founders were aware that this phrasing left open the idea of group speech, like the media. They were aware that if Congress could muzzle corporations, then they could muzzle any group, like churches, unions, fraternal organizations like the VFW, and political groups. Oddly enough, Movetoamend itself could be silenced under the interpretation they desire!

They suggest that the supreme court is wrong on the law. That reminded me of an aphorism I learned in law school. The supreme court isn’t final because they’re infallible, they’re infallible because they’re final. That statement reflects, perhaps, nothing more that the law’s desire for certainty. There must be a final arbiter of what the law means. This is where I find myself in agreement with movetoamend. They also disagree with the court’s ruling in Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137 (1803), at least as far as the court taking the power to decide what the constitution means. We both agree that the court went too far in taking that power.

They also want to amend the constitution to guarantee the right to vote. What they fail to realize is that the right is guaranteed, and is also mentioned numerous times in the constitution, starting with article 1, sec. 4. Section 4 states that “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Place of Chusing Senators.” There are also six separate amendments that restrict how the states may disqualify voters. Not to mention how many court decisions limit the states’ ability to disenfranchise voters. How much more do they want?

Let’s ask them. What is the language of the amendments they propose? Well, they don’t have any language, yet. They’re waiting to get opinions in before they commit to anything. It seems to me that they are the perfect exemplar of demagoguery. They make appeals to vague notions of injustice, using emotional trigger words and phrases like “democracy” and “corporations buying elections,” but when asked for a solution, they have none. They have a plan to get opinions, but nothing specific. They have supporters, but keep them anonymous for their protection.

A demagogue is a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument. Seems like that’s exactly what movetoamend is doing.

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