Restricting Free Speech is a Pandora’s Box [Hub Debate]

New_five_dollar_billLast week, Salt Lake Tribune columnist George Pyle wrote that the onus is on voters to choose the leaders of our republic. 

Is it the voter’s responsibility to shift through the lies? Or is there a role for government in regulating speech and money in politics?

Pyle is right. While allowing people to say false things is a bad option, it is the least bad option available to us.

The subtext here is the Democratic Party’s attempt to amend the First Amendment to our Constitution because they find certain speech inconvenient to their re-election prospects. This poses two serious problems:

The first problem is that giving government power to restrict free speech is antithetical to the founding of our nation. Under the Democrats’ proposal, Saturday Night Live, Jon Stewart, late night comedians and others inconvenient to popular politicians might be restricted. This power can, and would, open a literal Pandora’s Box that would serve to end free thought in our media.

This isn’t a hypothetical. Citizens United was about a Hillary Clinton documentary that the Federal Election Commission banned. Worse, the administration’s initial argument in Citizens United was that it could ban political books it found unacceptable. When the horrified court appeared ready to strike down all campaign finance laws, the administration changed its tune, an extraordinary second round of oral arguments was held, and the much more moderate Citizens United decision was made.

The second problem is that our existing social science suggests that political ads and other content have limited power to influence people. The “hypodermic needle theory”, which suggested that the public could essentially be led to do anything by advertising, lost all credibility 70 years ago. No serious social scientist believes in it anymore. Thus, the parade of horribles suggested by Democrats doesn’t even exist. Ironic for the “Party of Science”, isn’t it?

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