Fresh off the heels of CNN anchor Chris Cuomo’s embrace a philosophy that would result in the elimination of federal protections on “hate speech” (he mistakenly believed that those protections had been eliminated over a half-century ago by the Supreme Court), Barack Obama’s likely successor as America’s leading Democrat has embraced the cause of restricting free speech.
In her dogged quest to sate her restless left-flank, Hillary Clinton has endorsed the notion that the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC can only be reversed by passing an amendment to the Constitution. The Court determined in Citizens United that restrictions on campaign financing violated the First Amendment to the Constitution. As such, any amendment aimed at reversing that decision necessarily requires restricting the freedoms protected by the first item in the Bill of Rights.
Democrats contend that their amendment does not do away with the First, although they must concede that it does reform that key article of the Bill of Rights. Committed liberals often note that preventing unaccountable wealthy donors from unduly influencing the political process is generally popular. And it is, but so is the First Amendment. These two opposing conditions are irreconcilable. As a result, Democrats often refuse to attempt to reconcile them.
“Throughout American history, this constitutional guarantee of free speech has been the bulwark of the country’s experiment in self-government,” Donald McGahn wrote in a recent Wall Street Journal opinion. “Yet this consensus disappeared following Citizens United. The Democratic Party’s leadership, fearing the electoral losses that ultimately came to pass, called for a crusade to undo the Supreme Court’s decision. Their holy war found its fullest expression in the demand for a constitutional amendment that would, in essence, repeal the First Amendment.”
Hillary Clinton is now on board this campaign, based on her recent pledge to “fix” our political system “even if that takes a constitutional amendment.” For a hint of what her proposed amendment might look like, consider the measure then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) brought to the Senate floor last year. The so-called Udall Amendment—introduced by Sen. Tom Udall (D., N.M.), co-sponsored by 48 other Democratic senators, and ultimately supported by 54 senators, but no Republicans—was designed to reverse Citizens United.
Outside the bubble, political observers can sense intuitively that attacking the First Amendment in order to satisfy the Democratic Party’s left wing will be a disaster for Democrats. This mission reflects the degree to which the fringe activist base has supplanted moderates as the constituency that sets the party’s agenda.
When Democrats passed a procedural vote that allowed debate on this new constitutional amendment, then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid scolded Republicans for failing to block it. He noted that debate on this matter would limit the time they could have used to consider agenda items that had a snowball’s chance of passed. In other words, the Nevada Democrat was frustrated that Republicans did not save his party members from themselves.
“Critics have claimed that the amendment would repeal the First Amendment’s free speech protections. But it does the exact opposite,” wrote amendment backers Udall and former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY) in an op-ed supportive of restrictions on constitutionally protected free expression. “[T]he proposal is an effort to restore the First Amendment so that it applies equally to all Americans. When a few billionaires can drown out the voices of millions of Americans, we can’t have any real political debate.”
Democrats intend to destroy the First Amendment in order to save it. It doesn’t take a consultant to know that this is not a winning message ahead of 2016. Add to this the progressive commitment to addressing the scourge of “hate speech,” and you have a liberal crusade to permanently undermine the bedrock American freedoms of expression, association, and thought.
Inside the bubble, the Democratic Party’s illiberal mission to undo one of the greatest achievements of the founding generation will cheered on by influential media figures like Chris Cuomo. It is hard to believe that such an ill-considered and myopically partisan effort will be greeted with enthusiasm by the rest of the country.