I have three questions for my Democratic colleagues in the Senate: Should Congress be able to ban books? Should Congress be able to ban films? Should Congress be able to ban groups such as the NAACP, the National Rifle Association and the Sierra Club from speaking?
The answer to all three questions should, unequivocally, be “no.” But, sadly, 46 Democrats in the U.S. Senate are supporting a constitutional amendment to repeal the free-speech provisions of the First Amendment and give Congress carte blanche power to regulate political speech.
It’s all because a group of conservative filmmakers made a documentary film in 2008 about then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton that did not speak favorably about her record. Forty-four Senate Democrats are now supporting a constitutional amendment from Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico to stop Americans from showing movies like the one Citizens United created during the 2008 election.
Forty-six Senate Democrats are willing to rewrite the Constitution to take away the right of Americans to speak or create art that is critical of politicians.
Forty-six Senate Democrats are actively working to silence political criticism ahead of the next presidential election.
They are the “Fahrenheit 451” Democrats.
Never before has Congress tampered with the First Amendment.
When a similar proposal was considered in 1997, the famed liberal lion of the Senate, Ted Kennedy, reminded his colleagues that never before had the Bill of Rights been amended and “now is no time to start.”
I agree with Ted Kennedy. Where are the Democrats who agree with him today? Not a single one has spoken out against this. Groupthink has taken over their party.
The American Civil Liberties Union, however, has sounded the alarm. The ACLU says the Democrats’ amendment would “severely limit the First Amendment and lead directly to government censorship of political speech.”
Floyd Abrams, perhaps the leading First Amendment litigator in the country and an outspoken Democrat, has, as well. He said the amendment “would limit speech that is at the heart of our First Amendment.”
Senate Democrats would like to pretend they could draw the line between what they think is “reasonable” political speech and “unreasonable” political speech. To hear the Democrats tell it, all they want to do is stop “corporate influences” from unfairly influencing the political debate.
However, The New York Times is a corporation. Should they stop penning editorials? NBC is a corporation. Should it quit airing “Saturday Night Live”?
After all, wasn’t Tina Fey influencing voters when she took on an Alaskan accent and declared “I can see Russia from my house” — something Sarah Palin never even said?
Didn’t Will Ferrell’s hilarious portrayals of President George W. Bush as childlike and confused change public opinion of our 43rd president? Wasn’t Seth Green swaying voters when he impersonated Vice President Al Gore as a dry, droning bore? Wasn’t Darrell Hammond enforcing a certain kind of perception of Bill Clinton when he presented the president as a lusty, smirking cad?
The answer is yes, yes, yes and yes. That’s what free speech gives Americans the power to do — mock, provoke, challenge and persuade. “Saturday Night Live” has a constitutional right to do so, but the Democrats’ amendment would allow Congress to ban the show.
The hard-line liberal partisans who want to rewrite the Constitution to give their party a political advantage certainly do not have the same interests in mind as James Madison and Alexander Hamilton.
We should keep our faith in the Bill of Rights, rather than in politicians intent on preserving their power.
There will always be political speakers who someone disagrees with. Democrats should be free to disagree with films made by Citizens United, just as many Republicans disagree with films made by Mr. Gore and Michael Moore.
That’s a sign of a healthy and vibrant society. Banning films is not.
In Ray Bradbury’s novel “Fahrenheit 451,” — the temperature at which ‘book paper’ auto-ignites — Capt. Beatty, who is the chief book burner, said, “If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none.”
That same sentiment was expressed by the Obama administration, which told the Supreme Court in Citizens United that, in its view, Congress could ban books.
When Justice Anthony Kennedy asked the Department of Justice if the Obama administration was truly arguing that, according to the Constitution, book sales could be prohibited, the Justice official replied, yes, “if the book contained the functional equivalent of express advocacy.”
That was a shocking exchange. The government made an unabashed argument for the government being able to stop a book from being sold.
As the ACLU observed, under the Democrats’ proposed amendment, Congress could ban Mrs. Clinton’s new book, “Hard Choices.”
It could ban anti-Hillary movies and pro-Hillary books alike. What then would become of our political debates? We would have only that which Congress would allow.
The Democrats, by working to shut down political speech, want to eliminate different sides of our most important questions, just as Capt. Beatty said.
Soon, Senate Democrats will hold their vote on a constitutional amendment to repeal our free-speech protections.
They are playing with fire. “Fahrenheit 451” is coming to life, and tragically, the Democrats are playing the role of the firemen who want to burn our books and silence the citizenry.
Ted Cruz is a Republican member of the U.S. Senate from Texas.
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