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Political Speech Essay

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    SUMMARY: This paper examines the idea of Political Speech within the context of the constitution and our national political discourse. “Aristotle does not limit the content of political speech to rational truth claims. Deliberative oratory is the rhetorical genre that Cicero designates for political speech. While some societies or political organizations absolutely restrict the ability of the populous to discuss things political, demonstrating a fear that political speech may lead to rebellion. Kennedy's argument that regulation forces political speech underground (Rosen, 2000). It depresses political speech, it oppresses political association, and it discriminates in favor of incumbents, the wealthy and the well-known. Political speech is protected, absolutely.

    1. Introduction

    a. Discussion of Adolescent and Political Speech analogy.

    b. Introduction of the idea of speech

    c. Discussion of the contents of the paper.

    2. Definition of “Speech”

    a. Philosophy as Speech

    b. Politcial discourse as philosophy

    3. Interpretation of Speech as a Political Expression

    a. function of political speech as public discourse

    b. regulation of political speech

    4. Legal decisions on political speech

    a. Supreme Court’s involvement in political speech

    b. Battle over campaign finance / speech reform

    5. Conclusion

    a. Revisited ideas from the paper

    b. conclusions

    From an early age, we are taught that there are limits to our speech. Our parents restrict the language we are allowed to use. They tell us what is appropriate and inappropriate and the meaning of binary speech (yes/no, good/bad). Within school, we learn that the institutions of our country require us to modulate what we say so as not to violate rules, offend others, or interrupt the authoritative process in action. However, as we age, through middle and high-school and into college, our natural rebellion to authority and external controls begins to well up within us and becomes expressed in a form of speech that is difficult to understand, seems at times illogical, motivated by selfish indignation, and has very little lasting value beyond the immediate context in which it is uttered. While this description certainly fits the speech patterns of adolescents, it is also equally applicable to political speech.

    While both forms of speech are quite similar, they are also used by two very different populations. While speech filled with accusatory remarks that are not supportable (nor are they required to be) is common among the young, and thus forgivable on the basis of the idea that the young are ignorant and therefore unable to adequately express themselves, it is generally unforgivable in public discourse. Outside of the private domain, the only speech in which accusations may be made, names may be called, and details may be fabricated or at least fudged, is political speech. But, political speech has a history that reaches almost to the earliest of recorded history in which it includes the process of engaging in discourse on topics of a social, political, or cultural topics and has received some of the most reverent attention and fervent opposition or controls of any form of expression barring perhaps religion throughout history. It is the purpose of this paper to examine the nature and protection of political speech, its legal protection, and the role it plays within our United States.

    To understand what free speech is, we must agree upon some understanding of the definition of speech. Within the context of the constitution, “speech” has been broadly interpreted as being analogous to nearly all forms of verbal expression. The result has been that the words that come out of our mouths and are put down on paper or otherwise recorded are protected within the phrasing and interpretation of the constitution. Aristotle’s writing has led us to understand political speech as one of the highest forms of interpersonal communication. “Aristotle does not limit the content of political speech to rational truth claims. Neither does he argue that deliberation in the public sphere should lead to a rational consensus. Instead, Aristotle argues that political speech should bridge the gaps between the public and private spheres, passions and reason, individual interests and the common good, equity and law. Political speech is by its very nature reasonable, passionate, and reflective of the character of the speaker (Triadafilopoulos, 741).” All of the significant political philosophers focus upon language as the primary arbiter of political thought. In these contexts, politics equal philosophy.

    Plato and Kant both prefer that political discourse be couched in language that appeals primarily to an audience's reason, as opposed to their passions and appetites. Deliberative oratory is the rhetorical genre that Cicero designates for political speech. But while Cicero, like other classical rhetoricians, identified deliberative oratory as the primary model of political speech, many recent political thinkers have turned to conversation as the exemplar of political communication (Remer, 1999). While, Aristotle is ware of the fact that rhetoric can be used to promote private interests at the expense of the truth. This recognition of the potential of the use of rhetoric to harm is the driving force behind his attempt to subordinate private, purely self-interested rhetoric to a public realm of discourse. By offering a complex definition of public speech that appeals to our reason as well as human passions and emotions, Aristotle defends rhetoric against claims that it is simply flattery, or worse still, an artful cloak for injustice (Triadafilopoulos, 743).” Perhaps even more important is Aristotle's fusion of reason, emotion, and performance that provides us with a unique alternative to both agonistic and rational/deliberative conceptions of the public sphere. Our understanding of that public sphere is what leads us to the idea that in order to fully participate in that realm, we must have an established manner by which we can express our opinions and beliefs in an effective manner.

    More than just a form of communication, political speech is inherently important to the ability of a people to discuss the function of their greater society. While some societies or political organizations absolutely restrict the ability of the populous to discuss things political, demonstrating a fear that political speech may lead to rebellion. Our constitution guarantees our ability to express ourselves politically, there have been many steps taken to regulate that speech, if not control it altogether. “If Congress and the states ever embraced strict soft and hard money limits, rich donors would simply channel their money into other forms of political speech – such as cable television and Internet publishing–that receive the highest First Amendment protection. Now that technology has broken down the lines separating publishers, corporate donors, and independent advocacy groups, campaign spending can't be regulated in any form without trampling on the Constitution (Rosen, 2000).”

    Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy noted that recent legal compromises over the regulation of political contributions and therefore corporate sponsored speech "set the stage for a new kind of speech"–which he called "covert speech"–"to enter the political system." Kennedy's argument that regulation forces political speech underground (Rosen, 2000). While the First Amendment does allow the state to prefer a communitarian vision of democracy over a more pluralistic vision, "The Constitution often permits restrictions on the speech of some in order to prevent a few from drowning out the many–in Congress, for example, where constitutionally protected debate … is limited to provide every Member an equal opportunity to express his or her views," he writes. But the people of the United States, unlike their representatives in Congress, are not participants in a town meeting where membership is limited and only one person can speak at a time (Rosen, 2000).

    We live in a time of talk radio, internet, satellite television, and instantaneous world-wide commuication. It is within these contexts that the discourse of our political state is waged. The idea that wealthy voices necessarily drown out poor ones is quite untrue: anyone with a telephone and a modem can educate herself about the candidates and publish her opinions for the world to read. Some campaign finance reformers worry that most citizens won't take advantage of the new outlets for cheap speech and that lazy voters who get their political information mostly from network television may be unduly influenced by TV ads, which are paid for by the rich. But the idea that citizens can't decide for themselves how to receive information about politics and should be denied the right to watch attack ads on ABC in the hope that they will then watch "Newshour with Jim Lehrer" is paternalistic in the extreme (Rosen, 2000).

    The fact of political speech is that it has been heavily debated as of late, and has been taken to task within the Senate and our Presidential races. The reason behind this, is not to limit the public’s ability to engage in discourse, but to help ensure that the purity of political debate is not sullied by the influence of paid opinions, sponsored by the massive donations of corporations. Mitch McConnell (R.-Ky.), questioned the necessity of McCain-Feingold and criticizied the damage it would do to political parties and its unconstitutional restrictions on free speech. "The theory of this bill," said McConnell, "the underlying theory, is that there is too much money in politics, in spite of the fact that last year Americans spent more money on potato chips than they did on politics (“Senate Passes McCain Bill Limiting Political Speech", 2001).

    In testimony given by the ACLU during hearings on political communication reform, Laura Murphy, the director of the ACLU said, “we will continue to advocate reform of the current system, but with fidelity to the First Amendment principles, and with the goal of expanding, not limiting political speech. The Court recognized that money is spent in our democratic system for speech to be heard. Flyers are printed, ads are run, consultants are hired and paid, trips are taken — all to get political and issue messages out. The Court believed that to the extent Congress placed dollar limits on the amounts of funds raised and spent, it gave the government the capacity to ration and control political speech protected by the First Amendment (Murphy, 1999).” The Supreme Court has begun to weigh in on this issue and has made the determination that money, indeed, is necessary to ensure that political speech can be heard. Keeping political speech on its pedestal, the Supreme Court on Jan.

    12 struck down a series of rather minor regulations governing the process for putting initiatives on the Colorado ballot. For example, those who gathered signatures to qualify a ballot measure were required to be registered voters. This restriction touches on "core political speech," the Court said, and "the First Amendment requires us to be vigilant" whenever political change is at issue (Savage, 1999). Otherwise, in a culture so large and geographically diverse, communication of any national level cannot be completed – unless money is involved. Therefore, as money is a necessity to large-scale political speech there is always the danger that the politician may be repeating words fed to him/her by donors and that the policies she/he promotes are not reflections of satisfying the greater good, but of the privileged few.

    Joseph Remcho, a consulting attorney specializing in political discourse, appeared before the House Judiciary Committee to express his fears for the regulation of political speech. “For me, a central problem with most campaign contribution limit schemes has been that the effect is usually and quite often contrary to that intended by the drafters. In virtually all cases, speech, usually the direct speech of the candidate, is sharply curtailed, while the stated goals of the proponents are poorly served or indeed thwarted. In short, the cost in political speech and association is high; the benefits are often relatively low. If my opponent has personal wealth, he can contribute unlimited amounts to his campaign and spend unlimited amounts. I still am limited to raising funds at $500 per person. He wins. This is not a fair system. More importantly, it is not a constitutional system. It depresses political speech, it oppresses political association, and it discriminates in favor of incumbents, the wealthy and the well-known. It is, in the name of reform, antithetical to everything that the architects of our Constitution believed essential to a free and fair political system (Remcho, 1999).”

    Political speech is protected, absolutely. We are able to stand up and shout to the heavens our opinions about any political system, body, representative, or candidate without the fear of being censured, censored, or jailed. But, while our constitution guarantees us the right to express ourselves, it does not guarantee that all will be able to hear such expression. The debate of how to best ensure the equality of exposure has been very intense. To what extent should the expression of corporations on politically or ideologically controversial issues be protected under the First Amendment? Should they have a right of free speech equivalent to that of humans? The U.S. Supreme Court from 1978 onward has been ambivalent on this question (“Communication, regulation, and the law”, 1999). While we are certainly at the mercy of corporations in that without their donations, our candidates would not be able to produce television, radio, internet, and print advertisements, we must also understand that there is the inherent danger of the corruption of the politician in the process of succumbing to the corporate dollar. Political speech is passionate, unregulated in content, and is only regulated by the amount of money necessary for it to be heard. The overall picture is one of good health for our ability to express ourselves and our opinions.

    Annotated Bibliography

    (June, 1999). Communication, regulation, and the law.Communication Abstracts. v22. i3. p458.

    Presents an abstract about communication, regulation and the law entitled `Speech and Spending: Corporate Political Speech Rights Under the First Amendment,' by A. Gowri published in the December 1998 issue of `Journal of Business Ethics'.

    Murphy, L. (5 May, 1999). Restrictions on Political Speech. FDCH Congressional Testimony.

    This congressional testimony by Laura Murphy represents the opinon and position of the ACLU that political speech must be protected at all costs.

    Remcho, J. (5 May, 1999). Restrictions On Political Speech. FDCH Congressional Testimony.

    This recorded testimony represents the opinion of political consultant Joseph Remcho. It focuses upon his concept of the dangers of over and under regulating political contributions which then regulate political speech thereby undermining this essential and valid form of speech.

    Remer, G. (Feb, 1999). Political oratory and conversation. Political Theory. v27. i1. p39 (26p).

    Explores Cicero's conception of political speech and compares it with the theory of deliberative democracy. Deliberative oratory and conversation in Cicero; Ciceronian foreshadowings of deliberative democracy; Conclusion.

    Rosen, J. (14 Feb , 2000). Talk Is Cheap. New Republic. v222. i7. p20(3).

    Argues that campaign finance regulation forces political speech underground, through Internet publishing, cable television, and radio. How political action committees and independent-expenditure committees evade donation restrictions by paying for advertising; Corruption of published information regarding presidential candidates, funded by supporters, which is protected under the First Amendment; Opinion of author that the Supreme Court case Buckley v. Valeo should be overturned.

    Savage, D. (Mar, 1999). Freedom of (Some) Speech. ABA Journal. v85. pp42-3.

    Deals with cases concerning the freedom of speech in the United States. Restriction on political speech; Details on court decision on the cases.

    (9 April, 2001). Senate Passes McCain Bill Limiting Political Speech. Human Events. v57. i14 p23.

    Focuses on an April 2001 United States Senate vote to approve the McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act imposing new restrictions on campaign contributions and political spending. Terms under the bill; List of senators who voted for and against the bill.

    Triadafilopoulos, T. (Aug, 1999). Politics, Speech, and the Art of Persuasion: Toward an Aristotelian Conception of the Public Sphere. Journal of Politics.

    Presents information on a study which focused on Reverend Martin Luther King Junior's use of rhetorical speech in order to illustrate the advantages of Aristotelian persuasion over rational/deliberative and agonistic forms of public speech. Objections to using Aristotle as a source for public sphere theorizing; Content of persuasive political speech and its role in political deliberation; Rhetoric's role in the public sphere.

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