ISSUES IN FOCUS
Week of August 9, 1998
Here is something you may not know. If you don’t, you are not alone, since most Americans appear to be completely unaware of it. And the reason most do not know it is that the media hasn’t provided the details.
What is "it"? The fact that legislation recently passed the House that would forbid you to use certain words, during the 60-day period prior to a general election, in any "type of general public communication." It would be illegal for you to engage in "a communication that advocates the election or defeat of a candidate by—(i) containing a phrase such as ‘vote for’, ‘re-elect’, ‘support’, ‘cast your ballot for’, ‘(name of candidate) for Congress’, (name of candidate) in 1997’, ‘vote against’, ‘defeat’, ‘reject’ or a campaign slogan or words that in context can have no reasonable meaning other than to advocate the election or defeat of 1 or more clearly identified candidates;" (Title II, Sec. 201 (b) (20) (A).
Welcome to the hoped-for, totalitarian world of the Shays-Meehan bill, pleasingly touted to the public as the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.
This Act does not stop with merely banning the use of certain words in any public forum, during the 60 days before a general election, it makes a sweeping ban of "...a communication that advocates the election or defeat of a candidate by—(iii) expressing unmistakable or unambiguous support for or opposition to 1 or more clearly identified candidates when taken as a whole and with limited reference to external events, such as proximity to an election." (Title II, Sec. 201 (b) (20) (A) (iii)).
If this legislation is signed into law it will bring widespread, forcible suppression of freedom of expression, suddenly putting into high gear what has, so far, been a slow-motion death march toward totalitarian rule in America.
Even though statists claim that these restrictions would only apply to ads coming from such groups as the Sierra Club or the NRA, consider the possibilities which will be offered to statists and the power they will have against anyone who opposes them.
With the power to ban any "...communication…expressing unmistakable and unambiguous support...," logic, as logic always does, will drive statists to take this to its ultimate conclusion. Just what might be the target of statist regulators? Anything and everything: every means of communication would eventually become subject to regulation. How about your web site? It certainly is a means of communication. How about your postings to an online discussion forum or newsgroup? Yep, this would qualify as communication. What if you have a list of individuals to whom you e-mail political messages? This, too, would be a communication. In fact, virtually any form of public expression, anything you might say for the purpose of influencing the outcome of an election—a letter to the editor of a newspaper, a telephone call to a talk radio show or a speech given to a group of individuals—would be banned during the 60 days prior to a general election.
This legislation would also mean that for the 60 days prior to a general election, no newspaper, magazine or any other publication could issue an editorial either for or against a candidate. Talk radio show hosts, such as Rush Limbaugh, would effectively be silenced for 60 days.
There would essentially be no public utterances for or against candidates during 60 days of suppression, except, of course, for the candidates themselves, their political parties and their representatives.
According to news reports, the Shays-Meehan bill is given little chance of passing the Senate, but there are only a half-a-dozen or so Senators standing in the way of its passage—that is how close America is to taking one, gigantic step closer to full-blown totalitarianism.
What if there are a few changes in the makeup of the Senate in the coming, November elections, changes that alter the philosophic mix of the Senate, making it even more statist than it is now? What if those now standing in the way of the passage of Shays-Meehan are no longer in office? Given the penchant of most Americans to only judge legislation by its cover and the unconscionable editorial support it has received from most newspapers, most will rally around this Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act and will only discover the meaning of their act of support after it is too late.
Once statists succeed in establishing censorship for 60 days prior to elections, the collapse of freedom will accelerate with startling swiftness. Statists will soon claim that 60 days isn’t long enough, that these restrictions on speech need to be extended and they will call for these extensions during the 60 days of silence, when no one can effectively speak out against them, when only statist politicians can speak and run their ads to influence opinion—and they will get that extension, one that will go to 120 days, then to a year before any election, then to a total ban on public expression for or against a candidate.
I have repeatedly warned that America will quickly collapse into complete totalitarian rule shortly after freedom of speech is sharply restricted—and we are now within sight of such restrictions on speech being imposed in the very near future. It could only be a year or two away, or it could be longer—or, if enough act now, it will never happen. (If you are relying on the Supreme Court to save the First Amendment, don’t bet your life on it. For decades, the Supreme Court has been sanctioning the nibbling away of the First Amendment.)
The passage in the House of the Shays-Meehan bill should be a wake-up call to anyone who values his freedom. The alarm bells should be ringing. There should be a storm of protests. Alarmingly, there are no alarms and no storms of protest—at least, not yet. While you still have the freedom to do so, you had better act now, speak out while you still have the freedom to do so. If you don’t, statists will eventually see to it that your voluntary silence now will become involuntary silence in the future.
August 9, 1998
For the full text of the Shays-Meehan Bill go to Horror Story.
To see if your Representative voted for Shays-Meehan and for a sample letter to send to protest the passage of this Act go to TAKE ACTION!
© Copyright 1998 Fulton Huxtable