Lessons from SOPA /PIPA Debate

Matt Yglesias, now promoting his libgressive views freely at Slate, gives us five lessons from the SOPA/PIPA debate.  See here.     

I’ll provide a sixth: Corporate free speech is worth protecting.  And as Peter Scheer highlighted in a recent HuffPo column, we should be happy about the much-reviled Citizens United for helping protect the speech of such “persons”:

In this context it is worth noting that the First Amendment rights on display in this debate were secured by the US Supreme Court’s controversial decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. That misunderstood case is reviled in some quarters for its affirmation of the First Amendment rights of corporations.  Indeed, in the aftermath of the Citizens Uniteddecision, a cottage industry has emerged to advocate legislation (or, God forbid, a constitutional amendment) to curb the influence of corporations in the political sphere.

Their good intentions notwithstanding, those who believe corporations have no free speech rights (or that they should have, at most, a second-rate version of the free speech protections for individuals), should realize that only the First Amendment stands in the way of governmental punishment-legislative, regulatory or otherwise-against Google and other Fifth Estate corporations for their inciting of public opinion against SOPA-style legislation.

Think of how many members of Congress, humiliated (or at least humbled) by the anti-SOPA blow-back on the internet, would love to not only punish the Fifth Estate for its political impudence, but to neuter it permanently-for example, by blocking corporate acquisitions, unleashing antitrust and SEC investigations, or instigating IRS scrutiny.

One does not have to be a Ron Paul supporter to appreciate that for corporations (like Google, Twitter, Facebook and Microsoft), there is nothing more intimidating than being in the cross-hairs of government law enforcement agencies, egged on by pissed-off members of Congress with power over the agencies’ budget appropriations.

Corporations, no less than individuals, need First Amendment protection for their criticism of government and advocacy of policies opposed by government. They need this protection for themselves, for their employees, and for their shareholders and customers.

And as Matt notes, the corporate powers that spend the most bucks don’t always win.  Even when we don’t like what corporations say or that they can say it louder than we can, perhaps we should take a little understanding from Jefferson when he noted:  “I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty, than those attending too small a degree of it.”

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