The used-car sales lobby must be licking its chops.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the Susan B. Anthony List (an antiabortion group) may sue over an Ohio law that prevented it from making false statements about a political candidate.
What was Ohio thinking? Keep political campaigns from lying? Why not just tell humans to stop breathing?
In 2010, the Susan B. Anthony List wanted to construct billboards accusing Rep. Steve Driehaus (D., Ohio) of sponsoring "taxpayer-funded abortion" because he voted for the Affordable Care Act. Driehaus protested, saying state law prohibited "false statements" in campaigns. Obamacare would not change federal law, he argued, because federal dollars would continue to be used for abortions only in cases of rape or incest.
Driehaus lost the election, but the SBA List kept fighting Ohio's law. "The truth or falsity of political speech should be judged by voters," SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said, "not government bureaucrats."
So true. Surely you wouldn't want politicians taking their valuable time trying to figure out what's factual and what's kind of truthful if you give me some time to explain it. And really, do voters want to be forced to make their decisions based on the truth?
Clearly, when the Founding Fathers framed the First Amendment, they wanted to allow wiggle room so politicians could deceive voters. Imagine the discussion in Independence Hall:
George Washington: Order, order. Gentlemen, leave some cheesesteaks for the troops. Are we all clear on the Second Amendment?
Ben Franklin: I don't think anyone would have any doubt about what we mean.
Washington: And do we fully agree that a black man holds three-fifths the value of a white man?
Alexander Hamilton: To be clear, are you saying a black man or woman gets only three-fifths of a vote? (The room is filled with laughter.)
Washington: I'm sure you realize we're clearly saying that the black folks have three-fifths representation. Black men and women with the right to vote? Please.
Hamilton: So only white men and women can vote? (More laughter.)
Washington: OK, Shecky, save it for the wrap party. All right, let's get to freedom of speech. Should there be any restrictions?
Franklin: I don't see why. Why would anyone twist speech into an unfair advantage so they end up looking like some saint, when in reality -
Washington: I get it, Franklin. So I didn't admit I cut down that *&@# tree. Would you let it go already?
John Adams: Let's think about this. For example, would anyone ever take a small portion of someone else's speech that would give a false impression of that person's point of view and represent it as what the person actually meant?
Samuel Chase: That could never happen.
Adams: Why not?
Chase: That would be like someone taking a verb as simple as is and attempting to question its definition. He'd be laughed out of office. You might as well say that anyone who disagrees with General Washington hates our troops. It's just not who we are.
Washington: So we all agree? There will be no reason to abridge free spee-
John Hancock: FIRE! THERE'S A FIRE IN THE HALL! (Panic ensues.)
Hancock: Kidding. I just wanted to be in the transcript.
Washington: OK, there will be some restrictions. But just so we don't miss the obvious, would anyone here ever lie about an opponent in a political campaign? (No hands go up.)
Washington: Great. Let's sign this thing. I've got a horrific toothache. Anyone know a good carpenter?
This column was originally published in The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Steve Young is the author of "Great Failures of the Extremely Successful: Mistakes, Adversity, Failure, and Other Steppingstones to Success." (www.greatfailure.com) firstname.lastname@example.org
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