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Opening Arguments

Talk it up

It's usually one step forward, one step back for the First Amendment. In the good news, The Supreme Court decided a couple of cases yesterday that help reaffirm the core function of the amendment to protect political speech as a vital component of a constitutional republic. In one case, the court loosened restrictions on ads that advocacy groups can run close to elections, which will weaken the despicable McCain-Feingold act. In the other, the court decided that schools have legitimate reasons to restrict student speech. The article has a good quote from Justice Scalia (from a dissent in an earlier case) underscoring the crucial difference between political and non-political speech, a distinction that has largely been lost:

Who could have imagined that the same Court which, within the past four years, has sternly disapproved of restrictions upon such inconsequential forms of expression as virtual child pornography, tobacco advertising, dissemination of illegally intercepted communications, and sexually explicit cable programming, would smile with favor upon a law that cuts to the heart of what the First Amendment is meant to protect: the right to criticize the government.

The bad news is the renewed interest of congressional Democrats (and, apparently, some Republicans such as Trent Lott) in the Fairness Doctrine

WALLACE: So would you revive the fairness doctrine?

FEINSTEIN: Well, I'm looking at it, as a matter of fact, Chris, because I think there ought to be an opportunity to present the other side. And unfortunately, talk radio is overwhelmingly one way.

This is stupid in so many ways. The Democrats are obviously most concerned about conservative-heavy talk radio, but they can't dictate "balance" for just one medium. They'd have to control TV, too, and if they get started, does anybody think they'll quit before they get to the Internet? And trying to bring out the "other side" of debates will make our public arguments even more simplisticly either/or than they are already. The only way to get to all the information in our political discussions is to have robust arguments from all sides, and the only way to have that is to keep the government out.

We have that robust discussion now, with more information available than at any time in the world's history. You can find the liberal arguments and the conservative and libertarian ones and the contrarian ones that have no label. You can also find "just the facts" with no political spin on them. Leave it alone.