In Defense Of Attack Ads

During an interview with Howard Stern yesterday, musician Neil Young went political, decrying “corporate control of democracy through things like the Citizens United act.”

The Citizens United “act” he refers to is actually the Supreme Court case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, aka the Bane Of Leftist Politics. Citizens United overturned the careless campaign finance regulations against “electioneering communications” by corporations and unions. Now the airwaves are “flooded” with attack ads by shadowy corporate interests trying to “buy” elections. And (mostly) progressive activists don’t like it.

But is it that they don’t like money in politics, or that they don’t like specific interests’ money in politics? As in interests that don’t align with their political views?

My home state of Iowa is ground zero for America’s dumbest Senate race. Bruce Braley, the Democratic nominee, is going all-out with the “Koch Brothers Strategy.” And if Braley’s not mentioning the shadowy outsider influence of the rich Koch brothers, Braley’s allies are. And who are one of these allies? A shadowy outsider group headed by a rich guy.

Where is the progressive outrage against Tom Steyer trying to “buy” the election?

The regulations against “electioneering communications” were specifically against broadcast advertisements. Unless my reading of McCain-Feingold is wrong, campaign finance reform left the music business alone. That’s a distinction without a difference. By logical conclusion, if we had taken money out of politics in the 1970s, the corporate record label Atlantic Records would have had no right releasing Neil Young’s blatant electioneering song “Ohio.” By logical conclusion, the corporate record company Fat Wreck Chords had no right releasing their Rock Against Bush albums, which include a contribution from millionaire Billie Joe Armstrong. After all, corporations are not people and have no business trying to sway elections, especially since the music industry has spent millions lobbying the government.

Where is the progressive outrage against the music industry’s history of trying to “buy” elections?

The outrage doesn’t exist because these activists are not concerned about logical conclusions or equal treatment under the law. If they were so concerned about money in politics, they would condemn the crony capitalist policies of government. But instead, they support crony capitalist institutions like the Ex-Im Bank, say nothing as financial institutions are forced to take bailout money, and remain silent as the Obama administration cozies up to Hollywood. The federal government is inextricably linked to money. And as a result, money is inextricably linked to the politicians (with notable exceptions).

The political left and their allies don’t give a damn about the corporate influence on our democracy. What they are concerned with is silencing any dissent that could get in the way of their agenda. That’s why when grassroots activists try to involve themselves in the political process, the powers-that-be try to thwart them. That’s why the left tried amending the Constitution. That’s why the left calls for a return of the “Fairness” Doctrine. And that’s why they don’t like attack ads directed at them.

I’m not interested in censoring Neil Young, Tom Steyer, Billie Joe Armstrong, Atlantic Records, Fat Wreck Chords, or anyone with a leftist viewpoint. Nor am I interested in censoring the Koch brothers or anyone with a conservative viewpoint. If you want to clean up our democracy, then start by getting the politics out of our economy. But don’t take the First Amendment out of the Constitution. Keep the attack ads coming. It doesn’t matter if the ads are informative, scathing, comical, misleading, lame, below the belt, full of substance or completely insubstantial. Free speech requires loud political debate. Attack ads enable such a debate.

Bonus link #1, an attack ad from the Obama campaign in 2012:

Bonus link #2, an attack ad from Republican candidate Rod Blum:

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