New Castle News

November 19, 2012

Mitchel Olszak: Citizens need to restore civility, sense to political campaigns

Mitchel Olszak
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — “It’s not my fault”

That was the subliminal message delivered by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito last week when he offered comments on the infamous Citizens United decision.

In that 2010 case, a 5-4 majority on the high court said government could not restrict the rights of private organizations to engage in political speech. As Alito noted in his address at a Federalist Society gathering, the ruling, which Alito supported, basically blocked the ability of government to dictate terms of the First Amendment.

All well and good. But in a world full of unintended consequences (but in this instance, not surprising consequences), Citizens United contributed greatly to the tone of this year’s election, an ugly deceitful contest where roughly $2.5 billion was spent propagandizing the American people.

And it was all in the name of free speech.

It’s worth noting that dreary political ads did not originate with Citizens United. Instead, this ruling merely upped the ante and magnified the misery in the nation’s modern campaign system.

Now that the election is over, I challenge anyone to show me how all of this money — and the “speech” it created — served the greater good. Did it educate the voting populace? Did it enlighten the citizenry? Did it shine much-needed light on the dark recesses of the nation’s political structure?

I don’t think so. Instead, I think it did little more than apply generous amounts of grease to the nation’s cultural skids, as both parties competed in a rhetorical race to the bottom.

Yet as a supporter of free speech, I don’t necessarily blame Alito and his brethren who backed Citizens United — at least not completely. The court, after all, is supposed to rule on what is and is not constitutional. It’s up to the rest of us to fashion a functional society based on the results.

Ideally, the purpose of free speech is to allow people with good ideas to share them with others. It’s this marketplace of ideas that allows a healthy society to advance, grow and readjust itself when things go off track.

Another function of free speech is to give buffoons the opportunity to tell us who they really are. There are plenty of examples of this in our society. That includes many of the political ads that ran in recent months.

But a key factor in making proper use of free speech is to challenge nonsense. It’s necessary to expose foolishness and discredit it. Otherwise, it earns a legitimacy it does not deserve.

This is where the American people need to step up when confronted with silly and offensive political campaigns. Tolerating them or ignoring them isn’t enough. If you are disgusted with the current state of campaigning in this country, fight back.

How? By letting candidates and their staffers know what you think. By condemning the vulgarities of the political system at every turn, regardless of the party encouraging them.

Remember, this is your political system that’s being brutalized. Isn’t it time you took it back?