Pen or Sword?

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“The pen is mightier than the sword.” From a play by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, stealing possibly from any one of a number of ancient sources, all the way back to the Old Testament. Regardless of the source, the meaning is that words and ideas are far more dangerous than weapons, especially to governments. Which is precisely why we have the First Amendment:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The emphasis, quite obviously, is mine, and I’ve done it for a reason, because Gentle Reader, you have no idea how close you came in 2014 to losing that portion of the First Amendment. That’s right, in 2014.

Let me quickly give you some background:

The Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) was passed in 1971 to regulate the raising of campaign money, and to restrict the amounts of contributions that could be made either to candidates or to parties. It mandated disclosure of contributions and expenditures, and it introduced outright bans on certain corporate and union contributions and speech.

With me so far?

In 1974, FECA was amended, and then in 1976 the Supreme Court struck down certain provisions of FECA altogether in a lawsuit known as Buckley v Valeo, specifically ruling that (to quote the Encyclopedia Britannica) “spending money on behalf of a candidate or political party is a form of protected speech.” [Emphasis mine.]

In 2002, the McCain-Feingold Act was passed which prohibited a “broadcast, cable, or satellite communication that mentioned a candidate by name within sixty days of a general election or thirty days of a primary.”

In 2004, the inimitable Michael Moore aired one of his “mockumentaries,” Fahrenheit 9/11, which basically advocated the defeat of George W. Bush and his administration. Citizens United, a conservative non-profit (501(c)(4)), filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission saying that the film was political in nature and hence could not be aired or even advertised on television due to McCain-Feingold; they also claimed a violation of the Taft-Hartley Act, a law that restricts the power of unions. The FEC dismissed both aspects of the complaint.

Then we come to 2010. When Citizens United wanted to air a film about Hillary Clinton that, shall we say, did not show her to best advantage, they were told it was a violation of McCain-Feingold. Citizens United sued the Federal Election Committee claiming sauce for the liberal goose was sauce for the conservative gander and, eventually, in front of the Supreme Court, they won.

Putting all this in baby talk, what it means is if a bunch of conservatives like me can donate money to an organization—let’s say the NRA—that will represent our interests in Washington, DC, or, if we can get together and create our own 501(c)(4) to make our voices heard in support of a candidate or platform we believe in, the Citizens United ruling says that is allowed because it is considered protected speech.

Soooooo, in 2014 forty-nine US Senators, all members of the Democratic Caucus, tried to do something that has never been attempted in the entire history of your country. They tried to curtail your right to free speech by altering the First Amendment. Here, from Congress.gov (this is the link, if you doubt me: https://www.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/senate-joint-resolution/19) is the exact wording that describes what they intended:

“Constitutional Amendment – Authorizes Congress and the states to regulate and set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others to influence elections.

“Grants Congress and the states the power to implement and enforce this amendment by appropriate legislation, and to distinguish between natural persons and corporations or other artificial entities created by law, including by prohibiting such entities from spending money to influence elections.

“Declares that nothing in this amendment shall be construed to grant Congress or the states the power to abridge the freedom of the press.”

Ah, excuse me, but who exactly gets to decide what is “reasonable”?

Good question.

And why, exactly, would the good senators try to amend the Constitution instead of just passing another law?

An even better question. The reason the senators didn’t try to pass a law is because they knew damned well that such a law would be unconstitutional. Solution? Change that silly, outdated document to suit short-term partisan convenience. Will all those smelly deplorables bitch and moan because they’ve lost one of the most sacred rights any people may have? So what? They’re just smelly deplorables too dumb to know what’s best for us—for them, I meant them.

The 2018 senatorial elections will be held on November 6th. I scarcely need tell you that much is riding on this election, and each of us must follow his or her conscience when we vote. But I would like you to remember one thing when you go to the polls. You may loathe and despise the smelly deplorables, but the Constitution protects you as well as them, and if you monkey with that silly old document, you may well have reason to cry out in terror when the same law is applied to you. Remember Sir Thomas More in Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Season:

“And when the last law was down, and the devil turned round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast—man’s laws, not God’s—and if you cut them down—and you’re just the man to do it—do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the devil benefit of the law for my own safety’s sake.”

So, vote your conscience, but here, for your convenience, is a list of the senators who voted to diminish your rights:

Sponsored by Tom Udall (D-NM)

Cosponsored or voted for by:

Michael Bennet (D-CO)

Tom Harkin (D-IA)

Chuck Schumer (D-NY)

Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)

Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)

Jon Tester (D-MT)

Barbara Boxer (D-CA)

Christopher Coons (D-DE)

Angus King (D-ME)

Christopher Murphy (D-CT)

Ron Wyden (D-OR)

Al Franken (D-MN)

Amy Klobucher (D-MN)

Mark Udal (D-CO)

Tim Johnson (D-SD)

Robert Menendez (D-NJ)

Jack Reed (D-RI)

Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)

Martin Heinrich (D-NM)

Jeff Merkley (D-OR)

Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)

Mark Begich (D-AK)

Benjamin Cardin (D-MD)

Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)

Kay Hagen (D-NC)

Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)

Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)

Edward Markey (D-MA)

Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)

Sherrod Brown (D-OH)

John Walsh, (D-MT)

Richard (Dick) Durbin (D-IL)

Harry Reid (D-NV)

Mazi Hirono (D-HI)

Thomas Carper (D-DE)

Patty Murray (D-WA)

Brian Schatz (D-HI)

Bernard (Bernie) Sanders (I-VT)

John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV)

Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)

Cory Booker (D-NJ)

Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)

Joe Manchin (D-WV)

Claire McCaskill (D-MO)

Maria Cantwell (D-WA)

Bill Nelson (D-FL)

Robert Casey (D-PA)

Carl Levin (D-MI)

Notice any Republicans on that list?

Some of the above (Boxer, Reid, Franken) are, thank God, no longer polluting the halls of congress, but if you live in a state with one of the others, remember this when you cast your vote. If you agree with me, please pass this on.

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3 thoughts on “Pen or Sword?”

  1. JP,
    I adore you but the vote was a show vote. It never had a chance of passing the house or senate with the necessary votes. NEVER. Just like all of the Republican votes to repeal Obamacare (54 in the house and 36 times in the senate). Never meant to work, but to garner votes and raise money.
    However, I still appreciate your words and incite..
    Ken from Dallas

    1. Ken, I understand it was probably a “show” vote, but there is a huge difference between voting to repeal a law you disagree with (Obamacare) and voting to change the very Constitution you have taken an oath to support and defend, especially when it is intended purely for political gain. The fact that so many senators were perfectly willing to make a show of their contempt for your rights and mine, should be a source of alarm for all Americans. I know it is fashionable these days for politicians to display or even run on their contempt for America (B’rer Cuomo is a good example), but the only thing–the only thing–that differentiates America from other countries that claim to have a constitution is our willingness to respect ours and to preserve its integrity.
      I was talking to a young anti-gun lady a few months ago, and she suddenly swerved in her attack and asked me how I would feel if the Constitution were amended to affirm gay rights. My response then and now and always would be that increasing the government’s recognition and affirmation of God-given rights is one thing; anything that restricts a right is very different and very evil and should be a source of shame.
      One last thought in the form of a quote from the French philosopher Jean-Francois Revel: “A civilization that feels guilty for everything it is and does will lack the energy and conviction to defend itself.” That seems to be the prevailing attitude these days.
      JP

      1. JP,
        With all do respect. Didn’t Republicans try 6 times to amend the constitution to ban gay marriage?
        I don’t like the proposed amendment or the pure politics of it, but I am more worried about what people can and will pass. To that end I am more concerned about the diminishing of the second amendment that will come with the blue wave and anti-Trumpers to the right and the middle.

        As always, much respect.

        Ken from Dallas

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