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Do Americans Hate Free Speech?

Looking for a "wedge issue" that will separate Republican politicians and interest groups from their rank-and-file, and from independents?

Check out this newly released finding from the most recent ABC/WaPo poll:

Americans of both parties overwhelmingly oppose a Supreme Court ruling that allows corporations and unions to spend as much as they want on political campaigns, and most favor new limits on such spending, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Eight in 10 poll respondents say they oppose the high court's Jan. 21 decision to allow unfettered corporate political spending, with 65 percent "strongly" opposed. Nearly as many backed congressional action to curb the ruling, with 72 percent in favor of reinstating limits.

The poll reveals relatively little difference of opinion on the issue among Democrats (85 percent opposed to the ruling), Republicans (76 percent) and independents (81 percent). ...

Nearly three-quarters of self-identified conservative Republicans say they oppose the Supreme Court ruling, with most of them strongly opposed. Some two-thirds of conservative Republicans favor congressional efforts to limit corporate and union spending, though with less enthusiasm than liberal Democrats.

What makes this finding so interesting, of course, is that Republican politicians and conservative intellectuals have fallen over themselves praising the Citizens United decision not just as a Good Thing, but as a heaven-sent vindication of First Amendment free speech rights. This is particularly true of the solon who is supposedly well on his way to becoming Majority Leader of the United States Senate, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who said of the decision:

Any proponent of free speech should applaud this decision. Citizens United is and will be a First Amendment triumph of enduring significance.

So I guess Mitch is saying that 80% of Americans don't care much for free speech. And that may even be true if you think money talks.

The good news in this poll is that it shows a very strong base of bipartisan popular support for the legislative efforts of Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Chris Van Hollen to fence off some of the more deplorable implications of Citizens United. But unfortunately, "fencing off" is about all Congress can do in the way of "reinstating limits" on political spending, which is what Americans manifestly want to happen. Unless Citizens United is actually overturned by a future Court (possible if Democrats hang onto the White House for a while) or a constitutional amendment (rarely a real option), the only practical counterweight to massive corporate political spending would be a system of public financing for congressional campaigns. It would have been nice if the ABC/WaPo pollsters had asked about that option. But I strongly suspect this isn't exactly the best political environment for politicians to ask taxpayers to cover their campaign costs.

Still, the yawning gap between public opinion and the GOP on Citizens United should draw immediate and sustained attention from Democrats. And particularly at a time when the advantages of power in Washington have been so visibly minimized by structural obstacles, Democrats should open up a broader front in supporting political reforms. The status quo isn't working for anyone other than those who don't want government to work at all.

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This is where we turn it around. They are committed to voting against anything that hampers unlimited corporate campaign spending. We have to force them to actually cast those votes. Then we have to let their constituents know, again and again, how they voted. It's another Terri Schiavo vote -- they are utterly misreading the public's opinion and the level of its passion on this subject. My only worry is that the Democrats in the Senate will be too damned stupid to exploit the opportunity (I'm not worried about Pelosi; she's way smarter and tougher than she's given credit for).

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