Blackadder’s Lair

The home of many a cunning plan

The First Amendment vs. The Chicago Way

John McCain is no friend of the First Amendment. McCain-Feingold, the legislation that bears his name, is only the latest in a long series of attempts to restrict political discussion and debate regarding elections (for some examples of the pernicious effect that campaign finance regulations have had, see here and here). It would be hard, given Senator McCain’s history, for another candidate to show greater disregard for freedom of speech.

Barack Obama, however, seems to be giving it his best try. In Wednesday’s Boston Globe, Jeff Jacoby recounts some instances of the Obama campaign’s disturbing tendency to try to use government as a means of silencing criticism:

When the National Rifle Association produced a radio ad last month about Obama’s shifting position on gun control, the campaign’s lawyers sent letters to radio stations in Ohio and Pennsylvania, urging them not to run it – and warning of trouble with the Federal Communications Commission if they did. “This advertisement knowingly misleads your viewing audience,” Obama’s general counsel Bob Bauer wrote. “For the sake of both FCC licensing requirements and the public interest, your station should refuse to continue to air this advertisement.”

Similar lawyer letters went out in August when the American Issues Project produced a TV spot exploring Obama’s strong ties to former Weather Underground terrorist Bill Ayers. Station managers were warned that running the anti-Obama ad would be a violation of their legal obligation to serve the “public interest.” And in case that wasn’t menacing enough, the Obama campaign also urged the Justice Department to launch a criminal investigation.

In Missouri, an Obama “truth squad” of prosecutors and other law-enforcement officials vowed to take action against anyone making “character attacks” on the Democratic candidate – a threat, Missouri Governor Matt Blunt later remarked, that had about it the “stench of police state tactics.”

No doubt the first reaction among some to this sort of thing will be that if the Obama campaign is trying to keep the ads off the air, then they must be false, scandalous, and malicious. I wouldn’t be so sure. But if you are inclined to think this way, you should know that the Alien and Sedition Acts were also limited to material that was “false, scandalous, and malicious.” Allowing government to determine which criticisms of politicians are out of bounds is a very dangerous idea, and the fact that the Obama campaign seems so ready to have recourse to the coercive arm of the state in such disputes is not encouraging.


October 31, 2008 - Posted by | Democracy, Election, Law, Politics


  1. This is scary stuff….groups like the “truth squad” and ACORN are direct threats to the democratic process of voting we hold so dear. I applaud Gov. Blunt for standing up to these thugs; we cannot afford to let this kind of political chicanery and intimidation interfere with the election.

    Comment by Ben Howard | October 31, 2008 | Reply

  2. Yea, I’ve actually followed Blunt’s efforts to combat the goon squads — and the ACORN fraud! — in MO. It’s pretty absurd that in America in 2008 a political candidate thinks it can enlist law enforcement to intimidate voters, but I’m glad that MO has a tough, conservative governor to set things straight.

    Comment by 12pointbuck | October 31, 2008 | Reply

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