People who cannot win arguments soon discover that a good tactic is to avoid debate by bullying potential opponents into silence. From imposing campus speech codes to protesting commencement speakers to passing laws that make it harder for others to speak out, this tactic has been deployed with great effectiveness in recent years.
Now, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, with the backing of Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, is taking it to its ultimate end point. He is pushing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would amend the First Amendment to allow the government to curtail citizens' speech.
The amendment, proposed by Sen. Mark Udall and co-sponsored by Shaheen, is almost five times as long as the First Amendment, which it would cripple.
It would give both Congress and the states the "power to regulate the raising and spending of money and in-kind equivalents" and "the amount of contributions to candidates" and "the amount of funds that may be spent by, in support of, or in opposition to such candidates" under the broad justification that such restrictions are to "advance the fundamental principle of political equality for all, and to protect the integrity of the legislative and electoral processes."
Orwell could not have written it better himself. In the name of protecting the people, the government would assume for itself the power to control the people's political participation.
The First Amendment states that "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press...." Udall's amendment states: "Nothing in this article shall be construed to grant Congress the power to abridge the freedom of the press." Notice the exclusion of the words "freedom of speech." That was not by accident.
Shaheen has signed on to a constitutional amendment designed to give government the power to regulate political speech by regulating the amount of money that can be raised and spent on it. If you think Congress would judiciously use this power only in public-spirited and high-minded ways, and only against the super-wealthy, you have not paid much attention to Congress.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has documented 145 instances since 1987 of college commencement speakers who have been uninvited or protested or who have withdrawn their names from consideration under pressure, The Washington Post reported this week. Nearly 100 of those came in the last five years.
Last week the state Legislature passed a bill (SB 120) that would dramatically expand state power to regulate the activity of people who organize to participate in political campaigns. The impulse to silence other Americans is increasing.
This amendment is the ultimate realization of that impulse. It is the desired end result of everyone who would rather force an opponent to shut up than engage in an open debate.
It is, in a word, unAmerican. Shaheen should be ashamed for supporting it.