Friday, June 27, 2014

Just Gimme Some Truth - The Right to Lie?

This is the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. I could show you a different photo and lie to you. Apparently lying has become a component of Free Speech. The recent Court decision which removed the caps on the amount of money donors can give to political candidates and parties; and the anonymity allowed with those donations, in the name of free speech; should give us all pause to think.

The case at hand will now decide whether or not states can make it a crime for political groups to lie about a candidate during an election campaign. And now, with all that new money floating around, you can expect the lies to get even more prevalent. It is hard for me to understand that lies are covered under Free Speech as intended by the Founding Fathers. Those guys fought duels over stuff like this. It was a matter of Honor. Slander and Libel were not readily tolerated in the 18th Century.

Essentially this new case involves an Anti-Abortion group named the Susan B. Anthony List in Ohio. In the 2010 election they attempted to put up a billboard claiming that then-Rep. Steven Driehaus, D-Ohio, supported public funding for abortions under the Affordable Care Act. The ad said, "Shame on Steve Driehaus! Driehaus voted FOR taxpayer-funded abortion." There was a technicality involved in the truth of that statement and so the billboard company refused the ad. They claimed that it violated the law in Ohio which makes such lies a crime. The foundation then sued the billboard owner for violating his right to free speech.

When they lost the case the Susan B. Anthony group then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, on the grounds that the Ohio law is unconstitutional. They contend that under the Constitution the government cannot decide what false speech is in a political campaign. That makes no sense. And even more confusing is that if they claim that government doesn't have the sense to decide what false speech in a campaign is, then how can the Susan B. Anthony group expect it to be adjudicated in a court of law run by that same government? If the decision goes against them, will they even respect it? 

Some of the arguments arising out of this case are going to be specious at best, and ridiculous at their worst. Take these arguments in support of lying put forth by the Cato Institute and satirist P.J. O'Rourke, who take the position in their brief, that lies; which they call falsehoods; "are cornerstones of American democracy." They begin with the following 5 quotes from the recent past; the italics are mine.

"I am not a crook." (Richard Nixon) But he was, and knew it at the time he said it. And he resigned in disgrace for lying so much about so many things.

"Read my lips: No new taxes!" (George H.W. Bush)  He did raise taxes, and knew he was going to do it when he said he wasn't. As a result he became a one term President.

"I did not have sexual relations with that woman." (Bill Clinton) He did; and was impeached for lying to a Grand Jury. Found not guilty of lying on a technicality he cost his party the election in 2000 and became somewhat of a joke.

"Mission accomplished." (George W. Bush) It wasn't, and we are still mired in the events of post 9/11 as they relate to the costly and unnecessary War in Iraq.

"If you like your health care plan, you can keep it." (Barack Obama) What started out as a good and noble program became bogged down in falsities and ineptness; sullying anything good which he might have accomplished in the area of Health Care Reform.

I guess my point is this; if the government is going to sanction lying in political campaigns doesn't that right eventually extend to everybody and everything? Or, is lying only acceptable when it is done by PAC’s with tons of undocumented money to burn? It’s an interesting question, if only for the fact that the High Court would even consider ruling on such a clear cut topic. But nothing surprises me anymore. This is the same court which claims that it is okay to lie; they call it “misrepresent”; about whether or not you earned any medals while in the military. Or,  if you were even in the military to begin with.

I’m a simple man. John Lennon expressed it best when he sang “Just give me some truth!” That doesn't seem like too much to ask for.

Just Gimme Some Truth
(John Lennon)

I'm sick and tired of hearing things
From uptight, short-sighted, narrow-minded hypocritics
All I want is the truth
Just gimme some truth

I've had enough of reading things
By neurotic, psychotic, pig-headed politicians
All I want is the truth
Just gimme some truth

No short-haired, yellow-bellied, son of tricky dicky
Is gonna mother hubbard soft soap me
With just a pocketful of hope
Money for dope
Money for rope

I'm sick to death of seeing things
From tight-lipped, condescending, mama's little chauvinists
All I want is the truth
Just gimme some truth now

I've had enough of watching scenes
Of schizophrenic, ego-centric, paranoiac, prima-donnas
All I want is the truth now
Just gimme some truth

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