Stephen Goldstein: Democrats must become better liars than Republicans

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“Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.” Those sweeping words of the First Amendment are the crown jewels of our Bill of Rights, the equivalent of “Let freedom ring,” the bedrock of our Republic.

If Americans cherish anything, it is their constitutional protection to speak their minds.

But however unqualified the framers of the Constitution may have meant it, freedom of speech in a civilized society has necessarily devolved into a gossamer of loopholes. No one has the right to yell “fire” in a crowded theater, but they can lie through their teeth.

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Stolen Valor Act, which made it a federal crime for anyone to claim having received any U.S. military decoration or medal. But that didn’t stop Californian Xavier Alvarez from saying he was a retired Marine with 25 years of service and a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor. As unthinkable as it may sound, the Supremes actually overturned Alvarez’s lower-court conviction, affirmed his right to lie about his military service, and denied the government the power to stop him or anyone else from lying.

More broadly, without prior restraint, average Americans are free to “speak,” but they may be sued for libel or slander.

Except not always.

Political speech is “protected” speech. For all practical purposes with impunity, candidates and their supporters may malign their opponents and be maligned and hurl noxious sound-bites to rile up contributors and voters.

So, former Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh could say that his opponent, double-amputee Tammy Duckworth, is not a “true” military hero.

Former California Congressman David Dreier said that insurance companies should be allowed to discriminate against people with brain tumors. Former Florida Congressman Allen West called Social Security disability “a form of modern 21st-century slavery,” and Maine Gov. Paul LePage called the U.S. Internal Revenue Service “the Gestapo.”

To make matters worse, in the “Citizens United” case, a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that under the First Amendment the government could not limit the amount of money corporations and unions can spend on “electioneering contributions.”

Taken together, “Alvarez” and “Citizens United” have created a moral climate that has brought us to the lowest point in our history. As the Nov. 4 election proved, we are treading water in a sea of filthy lucre that is paying for lies.

And when it comes to exploiting the high purpose of freedom of speech for the lowest ends, Democrats are wusses; Republicans are sharks.

Typically, policy-wonk Democrats talk boring facts and figures (how many more people will be covered under Obamacare). Joe Biden is really the only one who understands the bons mots Dems need to throw, but lately he apologizes too much for them.

On the other hand, fear-mongering Republicans want people to panic (“death panels” killing grandma). They have already honed their attack on Obama’s expected “Executive Order” on Immigration, calling it “Executive Amnesty.” The order isn’t amnesty in any sense, but Republicans know that polls show that many Americans abhor the idea of amnesty for immigrants.

Between now and the 2016 election, Democrats have choices to make. They can hope to overturn “Alvarez” and “Citizens United” — virtual impossibilities.

Continuing to believe that the decency of their policies will win the day, they can refuse to lower themselves and meet Republicans on their terms.

Or they can become better massagers of the truth (aka liars) than Republicans. The First Amendment gives them the right to do whatever they choose. Republicans give them only one clear choice — the fate of the nation demands it.

Stephen L. Goldstein is the author of “The Dictionary of American Political Bullshit” and “Atlas Drugged: Ayn Rand Be Damned.” He lives in Fort Lauderdale. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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