Last week's Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court will have far-reaching implications here in our fair state, but -- to help you understand this -- I have to explain several key points.
The first is the nature of free speech. Our First Amendment allows me to express myself freely. I can say: "Chief Justice Roberts is a pinhead and a tool of Wall Street." I can say, "Justice Samuel Alito is a mangy dog licking the boots of corporate America." I can say, "Justice Clarence Thomas is a crazy person who should be in a facility where he can't hurt anybody." And no one can stop me.
This aspect of free speech has relatively little to do with the case, but it did make me feel better.
The court had to get your boot off the neck of corporate America. It is unfair and disgusting the way you, the reader of this column, have been holding down Morgan Stanley and Aetna and ConocoPhillips by not letting them pour quite as many millions of dollars as they want to into political campaigns. It is humiliating the way they are forced to set up political action committees to funnel money out of their treasuries and into elections. Stop, it you bullies! Stop picking on Walmart and ExxonMobil and Bank of America! They deserve to have a voice in the public debate, just the way you have.
That's what the court's majority said.
So this whole idea we've had for the past 10 years that maybe Big Business has too much say in our political process turns out to have been a completely nutty concept, and trying to do anything about it has been a slightly less productive use of our time than trying to start a professional jai alai league in which all the players would be monkeys and pigeons.
One of the alarming images that was invoked over and over last Thursday when the decision came out was the idea of floodgates. Almost every analysis said the decision would "open the floodgates" for corporate political spending.
See, I would have thought the floodgates were already open, but apparently Chevron and General Electric and AT&T have huge stinking ponds of even more money than they usually spend. The biggest danger from now on is that some candidates may get hurt by the huge sacks of money that will be thrown at all of them.
The court did say that we citizens could insist on knowing exactly how much money was being pumped into the beaks of our politicians. Under the circumstances, I think it would be helpful if they were forced to dress, at all times, like race car drivers, with little patches all over their clothing identifying their biggest sponsors.
The court decision was good news/bad news for Tom Foley and Ned Lamont and Linda McMahon, all of whom are planning to use millions of dollars from their personal fortunes to run for office here in Connecticut. The good news is they might not have to, especially if they can persuade corporations to, just for example, pay for a 30-minute video titled "Dan Malloy/Rob Simmons/Richard Blumenthal [circle one] will raise your taxes, frog-march your grandmother in front of a death panel and force you in a Soviet-style health care system where you have to wait in line for days to get toilet paper to clot your untreated aortic rupture" and then run that video on 299 cable channels 24 hours before Election Day.
The bad news is that Malloy/Simmons/Blumenthal could try to find companies that would pay for similar videos about Foley/Lamont/McMahon. And what are those companies going to want in return for all that help? Nothing! Well, almost nothing. OK, complete cooperation by all elected officials with their agendas so that they can pollute and foreclose and market hazardous products and never be sued and raise your premiums and leave you to die in the gutter at 2 a.m. But how different is that from right now?
According to the high court majority, it's not wrong for companies to spend huge amounts of money influencing your perception of candidates. In fact, it's encouraged. It's profoundly American. Only when every thought in your head has been molded, inserted and lubricated by CitiGroup, Verizon and Target will you ever be sure that you are truly free.