Tag Archives: U.S. Constitution

Endangered freedoms: speech and the press

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The concept of personal freedoms and rights have no greater defenders than those men that began to write the Constitution of the United States in the summer of 1782. First hand, they had witnessed the tyranny of King George III and Parliament in their combined attempts to turn the thirteen colonies into puppets.  Britain’s interests were not to preserve the rights of Englishmen living overseas, but to protect her financial interests. Various laws such as the Stamp Act, the Tea Act, Navigation Acts, and a few others bear the testimony that the British colonies in North America were regarded by many members of Parliament as a source of wealth for an empire needing financial resources to support its global reach.

These men had a firm belief in the ideals of personal liberty.  These men had witnessed first hand the effects on the individual when government begins to see itself as the grantor of rights and liberties.  The Stamp Act, which required that all printed materials in the Colonies be subjected to a tax which when paid would result in a stamp from the Crown being affixed to the document, literally affected everything from newspapers and political pamphlets to playing cards. Its reach included legal documents such as wills and deeds; literally everything printed in the Colonies had to bear the Crown’s stamp. The generation that fought and led the American Revolution saw the Stamp Act for what it was – a way to control what was being published and a means to discourage political discourse that the Crown found questionable.

As American independence was won, that generation of Americans were skeptical of a large national government.  The idea of a weaker national government with the  bulk of political action happening at the state level was seen as much more desirable.  Even when the Articles of Confederation were abandoned at the ratification of the new Constitution of the United States, there was a lengthy discussion on the role of the national government, rights of the individual, and the rights of the member States.  Any resistance to the ratification of the Constitution subsided as the framers added ten amendments, referred to as the Bill of Rights, as a means to place constraint on the national government.  Many of the framers of the Constitution, such as James Madison, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton objected to the Bill of Rights.  Not for the reason that they did not believe Americans had those rights, but because of the fear if the right becomes defined, then the government can interpret the definition to place limits on those rights.  In other words, the “laws of Nature and Nature’s God” that Jefferson had inferred within the Declaration of Independence as being absolute would now be defined by man.

Fast forward now to our modern times.  Earlier this week, a young woman from Harvard University, Sandra Korn, was lauded by some as she actually stated in an editorial for the Harvard Crimson, the university’s official newspaper, that free speech should be stopped since it distracts from the goals of liberalism.  She coined a phrase, “academic justice,” meaning that in the interests of creating the liberal utopia envisioned by the American Left, all ideas, research, and publications that do not support the liberal agenda must be silenced.  Add to this the introduction of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) plan to place government monitors in newsrooms across the nation as a part of an “official study” it was conducting.  According to the FCC, the study was to determine why there were not more minority owned television stations and networks. Many critics began to criticize the study as the Obama administration’s way of encouraging American media to report on stories favorable to the Affordable Care Act and the Obama administration, both are already experiencing low poll numbers.

The position taken by Korn is not a surprising one.  When I entered graduate school at Murray State University, not only did I come across students that had a similar mindset, but a few faculty members as well. Within the Progressive movement and beginning with the Wilson administration, there has been a desire to force a national consensus on the people.  The Espionage Act of 1917 combined with the Sedition Act of 1918 sought to enforce consensus among the American people.  Any critique of Congress, the President, or America’s war efforts during the First World War would be met with swift and excessive punishment.  To combat the problem of the free press, Wilson instituted the Office of Public Information (OPI) to ensure that only officially sanctioned news was reported to the American public.  Newspapers and magazines that violated the OPI standards were not permitted to use the United States Post Office services to distribute their materials.  By the end of the war, there were nearly a thousand periodicals that did not report on America’s war efforts for the duration of the war.  Freedom of the press had become a liability and the Wilson administration sought to find a way for the nation to enter World War I.

Similar policies were adopted under the F. D. Roosevelt administration as a means to direct American sympathies to a common goal. FDR saw American media, especially the owners of the newspapers and radio stations, as being enemies to his agenda and the harmony of the nation.  In his early efforts, he did actively woo the media by offering the press unprecedented access to him and his cabinet.  When those efforts began to falter, Roosevelt included what became known as the “newspaper code” to the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA). As a part of NIRA, the press was not to report on the various strikes across the country that resulted from the NIRA and policies implemented by the National Recovery Administration (NRA).  Again, borrowing from the Wilson administration, the American media could only report on labor issues that placed the government and the NRA in a positive light. Beginning shortly after his third inauguration, he began to use the FBI and IRS as political tools to investigate the owners and shareholders of media outlets that were critical of his policies.

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Mr. Obama and the tradition of the angry president

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Since his inauguration as President in 2009, President Barack H. Obama has been different from any other American president in recent memory. Beginning with his campaign in 2008, then Senator Obama stated in a campaign speech that if “the Republicans bring a knife to the fight, we’ll bring a gun…” which literally was a forewarning of what he, as president, would bring to Washington D.C.  Since that speech and at nearly every opportunity, Mr. Obama has not brought focus to our real foreign threats or even address issues affecting national policy, or the economy. Instead, the focus has been on the “enemies” of Mr. Obama and the Democratic Party’s agenda.

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Throughout the debate over the budget and the government shutdown that resulted, instead of actively engaging the Republican held House of Representatives, the president proclaimed to the world that he would not negotiate with Republicans to find a compromise solution to the budget or government borrowing. Even the mainstream media picked up on Mr. Obama’s narrative and ran articles about the Republicans – in particular, the Tea Party and Conservative members of that body – bent on being obstructionist and even racist or hostile towards Mr. Obama.  Throughout his time in office and through each political crisis that this administration has faced has been used as an opportunity to attack the critics as being the real problem or root cause.  Repeatedly, the Republicans, Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Tea Party members, and others have been accused of undermining the president, attempting to distract the public from the real issues, and of sacrificing the security or economic health of the nation in order to make political gain.  There is no doubt that Mr. Obama is an angry president and always in search of a new political enemy to demonize.

Something else that this administration has taught us, as did the presidencies of Lyndon B. Johnson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson, is that there is a real political price to be paid when the president is not willing to work with the opposition party.  Beginning with Theodore Roosevelt, his desire to implement his conservation and environmental agenda, he ignored the majority of his own Republican Party, catering solely to the progressives and early environmentalists. As the economy began to falter in 1907, not only did Roosevelt find himself alienated by the Republicans and Democrats who blamed his environmentalist policies as the root cause of the economic depression.  It would ultimately be the end of his ambitious political career and would sever his leadership within the Republican Party.

Woodrow Wilson attempted to ram through the very progressive concept of the League of Nations at the end of the first World War.  As a wartime president, he did experience a lot of political support from both the Republican Party and his own supporters within the Democratic Party.  Various laws were passed to regulate the economy, to control wartime prices, rents, and wages, and to even silence opposition to the war effort.  As the war in Europe came to an end, he attempted to tie the creation of the League of Nations into the Treaty of Versailles. His attempt, to force members of Congress to vote to create the League of Nations in order to ratify the treaty ultimately failed and not only caused him health problems, but caused many Americans to support the efforts of the more conservative elements in both parties.  The end result was a complete shift of power within the House, a White House dominated by Republican presidents from 1923 to 1933, and the groundwork for the Second World War.  It was an angry president unwilling to compromise with his political opposition within Congress that created an environment that would be disastrous for the United States and the average citizen.

Beginning in 1926, a growing crisis in Europe, the American farmer, and the global financial system were destined to create a new crisis much worse than any American politician ever imagined.  The Versailles Treaty that Wilson had helped to negotiate had placed extremely high reparations on Germany; with approximately 37% of all GDP of Germany awarded to France and Great Britain AND roughly 16% of all coal and iron ore production from the Ruhr River Valley which was one of the most productive industrial resource regions still under German control (the iron ore and coal rich region of the Sudetenland was now a part of the reconstituted Czechoslovakia).  Germany’s inability to repay these reparations would ultimately lead to one of the largest banking collapses in world history as Germany borrowed money from American banks to cover its treaty obligations and for rebuilding its infrastructure.  Soon, without any credit available and any real financial means to pay its international obligations, Germany would experience the worst economy in its history. Great Britain and France, who had counted on swift quarterly payments to met their international obligations, also borrowed money from America’s banks with the belief that a German default would be unlikely. By 1929, even the United States would be dragged into what would be later be named as the Great Depression.

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Mr. Obama, the Democrats, and a painful lesson

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Since the beginning of September, we have all been bombarded by the “news” coming out of Washington about how the Republicans in the House of Representatives are blocking the government’s abilities to pay its financial obligations.  The Democratic Party, with the assistance of the left-leaning media, began to lament that it was the extreme right of the Republicans in the House, those Tea Party Conservatives, that were ecstatic for a federal government shutdown.  Since those early days in September, we have heard stories about Social Security benefits, Veterans’ health care and benefits, and everything else being held up because of the extreme right that simply will not compromise with the President.


Just in the last two weeks, the stories included national monuments and parks being closed – and its now taking more federal manpower to keep them closed and unwanted American trespassers out than it did to just keep them open. We have heard about World War II veterans being faced with arrest when they attempted to visit an outdoor open air memorial that was dedicated to their service at a time when our nation asked them to exchange the carefree days of young adulthood for the horrors of war.  We have heard stories of Medicare and Medicaid payments being delayed to health care providers, and in some cases, these providers are owed hundreds of thousands of dollars by a system that constantly does not make its payments on time.  And while all this drama is unfolding on the national stage, President Barack Obama has repeatedly stated that there will be no compromise on the nation’s fiscal crisis.  Since this moment, the mainstream media has tried to portray the Republicans within the House of Representatives, under the leadership of Speaker John Boehner, as being extremist, obstructionist, and blocking the will of the people, and even has gone so far to demonize Republicans by calling them terrorists, blackmailers, hostage takers, and so on.

If the truth is told, Mr. Boehner has just as much right to be obstructionist as Mr. Obama and the Democrats have a right to pursue their party’s agenda.  Yes, Mr. Obama was correct in ;ate 2009 when he predicted further Republican losses because of their lack of support for the Affordable Care Act.  After passing the legislation without any bipartisan support, Mr. Obama stated that elections have consequences.  No, he was not correct, the Republicans did not lose representation, but gained control of the House and made some minor gains in the Senate.  The mid-term election of 2010 did have consequences – America rewarded the Democrat Party for their blatant game of partisan politics by giving control of the House to the Republicans; the bulk of those new Republicans identifiable by their Tea Party or Conservative positions.  It was the first signal to the White House and Democrats that moving forward, a general consensus acceptable to both parties would have to be met to get additional legislation through.

 Now brings us to the current crisis.  Mr. Obama is demanding that not only the Affordable Care Act be fully funded, in spite of its obvious shortcomings, but that the debt ceiling be suspended indefinitely. According to the Obama Administration, this is the only reasonable course of action for the nation.  Even the mainstream media has reported that the Republicans in the House are willing to compromise, providing that the administration delay the implementation of the individual mandate until next October – the exact same delay that has been given to employers.  Since the passage of this hallmark legislation, the administration has given exemptions and extensions to political allies and supporters while demanding the American public comply with the full provisions of the law.  In reality, the executive branch has no such authority to pick and choose which people can be given an exemption – the law must be equally enforced.  This is not the first law enacted that the Obama administration has either ignored or interpreted powers for itself that never existed.

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Boehner and the Republicans in the House of Representatives do have the legitimate right to refuse the president’s demands and agenda.  According to Article 1 of the Constitution of the United States, the legislative branch is divided into two chambers, the Senate and the House of Representatives.  Yes, although rudimentary political factions did exist during the days that the drafting of  the Constitution did happen, there is no mention of party or party affiliation within the document.  This was intentionally done to prevent the emergence of factions that had occurred within Parliament and as a means to protect the concept of the democratic-republic. No president is entitled to enact their agenda just because their party is the dominant party and in control of the presidency and Congress.  It is not a “simple majority rules” construct and is designed to assure that the rights of the minority are also protected.

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