Saturday, November 12, 2011

Free With The Facts (UPDATE)

Whenever George Will puts on his Constitutional scholar hat, right-thinking people cover their eyes in shame. It may well be that the Stolen Valor Act of 2005 is an unconstitutional piece of crap. At the same time, the attempt at both the state and federal level to regulate certain speech-acts as beyond the bounds of Constitutional acceptability does have a certain amount of practical merit. No one should be surprised by Will's opposition to a set of rules and regulations that would disproportionately harm the political opportunities of conservatives. When it comes to slinging piles of poo until they stick, the Republicans are the alpha males of our little primate colony.

All one needs to consider is the following on-going meme - the socialism of President Barack Obama. Real socialists carry on about the perfidy, weakness, and general bag-carrying-for-business-and-banks of Pres. Obama and his Administration. No matter. We'll just repeat it and repeat it, and pretend it actually means something and, voila! There are significant numbers of conservative and Republican voters who believe our business-coddling President is V. I. Lenin in a better suit.

It is a dodgy thing, at best, to talk about regulating speech. It is impossible to look for guidance in these matters to the founding generation of our country, because they honored these things, by and large, in the breach. John Adams supported and signed the Alien and Sedition Act which, among other things, criminalized all sorts of political speech. We still have laws regulating seditious libel, for which truth is no defense (something I cannot fathom; there is no rational reason why truth isn't a defense when going after a public figure, except to protect the status quo, so, uh, duh). The Presidential election of 1800 makes our current politics look like a high school student council election by comparison, and the things said about Pres. Obama only approach the kinds of invective Adams tossed at Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson, being a gentleman, managed to toss far less lethal poo at Adams.

All the same, our current speech-climate certainly favors those who have no scruples. Those who are quite willing to say anything and everything about candidates, about laws and bills before Congress, about the actual effects of legislation or policy preferences. Which means, in recent history, Republican candidates. The year-long campaign against the Affordable Care Act was an object lesson in the effectiveness of lying in politics. With false statements no longer constitutionally protected, we might well have a situation where the playing field between various parties and their policy preferences becomes level. Even more than removing money from the electioneering process through campaign finance reform, what would our politics look like if all parties were reduced to discussing issues knowing they could not, under penalty of law, make a false statement in the negative about their opponents or their policy preferences, nor could they make any false positive statements about themselves?

It would have a devastating impact upon the economy, because there would be a whole lot of people whose livelihood depends upon lying about public affairs who would suddenly find themselves unemployable. It would also be a nice statement about what kind of society we wish ourselves to be. It would set a minimal standard for our public discourse, now suffering from extreme strains of decrepitude.

Heck, Newt Gingrich might actually be asked a question such as, "Mr. Disgraced Former Speaker, if you truly believe that organs of state power are at the heart of so much of our national malaise, why do you spend an inordinate amount of time seeking to lead them?"

Yeah, I see how silly and utopian my position is.

UPDATE: Augh. I had completely forgotten that, yesterday, I saw this. Rather than rewrite the whole thing, I thought I'd tack it on the end here:
Social scientists have known for a couple of decades that, contrary to its national myths, the US is a country with low intergenerational economic mobility, by international standards. Back in 2001, when I reviewed The Real Worlds of Welfare Capitalism by Bob Goodin and others, I mentioned that this was already well known. More recent evidence has shown that social mobility is not only low but declining. Yet until recently, popular discussion in the US seemed impervious to this evidence.
Imagine! An entire society impervious to evidence of a reality that should be all too clear. Like about global warming. Or the positive revenue effects of cutting tax rates.

Right now, the Republicans at pretty much every level and their hired guns and willing stooges carry on that each and every attempt by others to regulate economic affairs is dangerous to the likelihood that economic prosperity will grow like some big snowball as it rolls through time, granting to our children and grandchildren greater rewards than we have received. This, of course, distinguishes us from those horrid socialist Europeans who only work 15 hours a week and make do on government welfare checks, smoking their smelly cigarettes and drinking their horrible coffee, wiping themselves with paper towels.

That the reality is the exact opposite of this caricature is no small bit of important information to have moving forward. One would think. Coddling Americans to believe ours is the greatest and bestest of all in everything is the social equivalent of insistently telling one's children that the Easter Bunny brings all that candy and eggs. When said children are college students. We would fare better as a country if we actually started from a position rooted in the reality of certain situations. You cannot design policies that work from false premises.

Virtual Tin Cup

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