Alex Massie

Free Speech Is Expensive But It’s Free

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Simon Heffer is very good on grammar, Thomas Carlyle and, most importantly, cricket. And much more besides. But even Mr Heffer is not immune to the unfortunate Laws of Punditry, one of which insists that while writing something in one time zone something will happen in another which rebuts one's argument all too convincingly. So his suggestion that Hillary Clinton might challenge Barack Obama for the Democratic party's presidential nomination in 2012 is somewhat confounded by the Secretary of State's declaration, during a visit to New Zealand, that she has no intention of doing so, nor of ever running for President again.

Of course, she may be lying! Or events may force her hand. Nevertheless, I hazard that the only circumstances in which Hillary runs again are those in which there's a vacancy. Which means Barack Obama has to die before she can or would run again.

I was also struck by Mr Heffer's analysis of the role money plays in American politics:

The two contestants for the Senate seat once held by Mr Obama spent $14 million between them, just on television advertisements slagging each other off. Their entire campaigns spent what a British political party would, nationwide, in a general election. People wonder why American politics is so corrupt. The answer is surely that the people who give huge amounts to such campaigns do not do so for charitable reasons: they all expect something back. One reason the $787 billion stimulus did little for the economy is that it was used to appease Congressmen’s vested interests. The reform America needs is not just economic, but constitutional, and it won’t recover until it has it.


It's true, for sure, that many corporations and interest groups give money expecting that this will help a given politician look favourably upon their concerns. True too that the economic stimulus was ill-designed and compromised by pork and much else besides. But this is scarcely a recent development; indeed one could argue that, thanks to internet fundraising, it is possible for (some) politicians to be less dependent upon Big Money and Big Interests than was the case in previous eras. American politics may be - nay is! - corrupt but it's no more and probably much less corrupt than it was in the past.

For that matter, even if a politician is bought and owned by a given interest how does that really differ from our own situation? Few people, I think, expect British MPs to vote against the obvious interests of their constituency even though, sometimes, doing so might be consistent with their broader philosophical outlook (to the extent that any of them possess such a thing). It's a brave MP who blithely endorses a decision that could leave thousands of his constituents unemployed. Campaign contributions in America are different in scale but not in kind to, for instance, Trades Union contributions to Labour MPs in this country or the obvious interests of constituents. 

In any case, what is this mysterious constitutional reform to which Mr Heffer seems so attracted? It can only, I surmise, mean the abridgement of the First Amendment. But money is speech, whether one likes that or not and insisting otherwise, in my view, takes a partial (in both senses of the word) view of the Constitution of the United States. If the Washington Post company has the right to speech - and the right to advocacy - then so, surely, do Exxon Mobil and the National Rifle Association.

If you think this regrettable then your argument is not, in fact, with money and its influence (present since time immemorial anyway) but with the idea and reality of a written constitution. That's an argument, mind you, with which I can sympathise.

So here we are: Simon Heffer, pinko-lefty. Who knew?

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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