Walter Saves the Union

by wjw on February 9, 2010

Ever since the Supreme Court’s recent ruling that bribes are a form of protected free speech, I have been pondering its implications.

I’ve come to a conclusion or two, chief among them that I should invest in the first Rollerball team I can find. Cuz we’re sure as hell heading for that future, you betcha.

Rollerball aside, it has been pointed out by others, among them our president, that the ruling does not prevent foreign corporations, or foreign governments using their corporations as a beard, from buying ad time on our networks. So we wouldn’t simply have the Congressman from GM or the Senator from Agribusiness— which is sad, for all that we’re used to it— so instead we could have the Governor from France or the President from the People’s Republic of China. (Oh, wait, never mind . . . that’s our last four or five presidents anyway.)

As Adam Smith remarked, businessmen “never gathered together even for a social purpose save to conspire against the public interest.” (Yes, that was said by the first and greatest theoretician of capitalism, and not by Michael Moore.) So we’re shortly going to be subjected to vast numbers of political ads urging us to destroy the environment, take loans at exorbitant rates of interest, shift the tax burden to the middle class, and otherwise hand our money and power to the rich who, being rich and powerful already, have more use for it than we do.

And why do all our politicians need those enormous war chests, anyway? Both the Democrats and Republicans spent over a billion dollars apiece last year trying to elect a president. A billion dollars apiece. Just for one office.

If this isn’t an invitation to corruption, then what is?

I propose to cut temptation off at the knees. I suggest the following law: “No person or entity may advertise on broadcast television for any political purpose or cause, ever. Ever. This means you.”

Now, it may surprise you to know— particularly in this era of reality TV, when everyone gets to be a star sooner or later, sooner if they’re loud and stupid— that there is no constitutional right to appear on television. The courts have ruled this every time the Klan or the American Nazi Party tries to buy an ad.

This doesn’t mean that our fine politicos and their well-heeled secret masters won’t be able to get their message out. They’ll still have newspapers, radio, and the Internet.

But you know what those media have in common? They’re cheap! You don’t need a billion dollars to buy ads in those media. The politicians won’t have to hustle their butts like streetwalkers on Sunday morning in order to raise money.

So let’s start spreading this meme! No political ads on television— ever. For anybody.

The networks will scream like stuck pigs. (Another reason to do it, in my opinion.) The networks will wail about losing billions in income. And y’know what— I don’t care! Besides, it isn’t even true, they’ll just sell the air time to someone else. It’s not like the nation lacks for advertisers.

And if we’re concerned that the networks aren’t covering politics enough because they’re spending all their broadcast time on American Idol and entertainment news, you can mandate that they spend a certain number of hours in the election cycle covering the election, analyzing the candidates’ positions, covering debates, and maybe even exposing the witless pandering regularly barfed up by politicians, and covered by media as if it were gospel. (Nawwww— that one’s too much to expect.)

And while we’re reforming elections, let’s take our cue from the Germans, and institude a Truth in Advertising commission like I saw back in 1980. The Germans have a nonpartisan commission which reviews every political ad before it’s run, and if it’s untrue, or overly inflammatory, the ad can’t run, and no one ever sees it. You might think that this would take all the fun out of elections, but I can assure you that despite ads being forced to speak something approximating the truth, Helmut Schmidt and Franz-Joseph Strauss beat each other bloody at the polls in one of the most entertaining elections I can remember. (I also remember this line from the televised debates: “Stop calling me a Nazi, you fucking Commie faggot!” I mean jeez, for a second there I thought I was watching professional wrestling.)

So there. I have now thrown to you the football. Please run with it, and score.

Mike Toot February 11, 2010 at 4:45 am

That's a decent idea. We could also do what the French do, and require that TV stations provide equal time for all parties. That would give us entertaining TV AND hurt the communications conglomerates in the pocketbook. Unfortunately I'm sure the conglomerates would figure out a way to require the govt to pay for that time on the parties' behalf. Could be fun, though.

Urban February 11, 2010 at 5:22 am

In Sweden we to have strict truth in advertising laws. Which specifically don't apply to political advertising. "Election campaign promises aren't actually promises because nobody think they are!"

Cosma February 11, 2010 at 5:47 am

"Stop calling me a Nazi, you fucking Commie faggot!"

Wasn't that almost exactly what William F. Buckley said to Gore Vidal?

dubjay February 11, 2010 at 6:00 am

It was certainly in the same spirit, but I believe Buckley also threatened to clobber Mr. Vidal.

Ralf the Dog February 11, 2010 at 9:23 am

I have a friend who was running for the US Senate. His opponent was known for dirty tricks. He ran an ad where he had a picture of my friend that had been photoshoped to look like he was wearing makeup. Then they cut to a picture of two men on a wedding cake. The caption was, "Too liberal for Oklahoma."

One candidate had a post graduate degree from Harvard and ran a campaign focused on the issues. The other candidate had a degree from a community collage and ran on lies.

I will give you three guesses who won.

halojones-fan February 15, 2010 at 9:13 pm

"No person or entity may advertise on broadcast television for any political purpose or cause, ever. Ever. This means you."

Sounds good. But you need to define "advertise", "broadcast", "television", "political", and "purpose or cause". Then watch as the loopholes get reamed out wider than a whore's bits. And if your defintions are just "It's Me Doing It, I Get To Decide" then you've just bought a one-way ticket to Lawsuit City.

"And while we're reforming elections, let's take our cue from the Germans, and institude a Truth in Advertising commission like I saw back in 1980."

Dude, seriously? Seriously? You're a writer and you're speaking in favor of a government-run censorship board. (With a name right out of 1984, even.)

"The Germans have a nonpartisan commission which reviews every political ad before it's run…"

Hah. And of course only the Republicans ever run nasty ads or anything like that. No Democrat would ever accuse a Republican of, say, being part of a secret cult of homosexual pedophiles, right?

Lance Larka February 16, 2010 at 4:48 am

(yawn) are you still here? I mean did you really just compare the First Amendment to the Constitution to …er, a whore's bits. Dude, seriously. At least go for the Establishment Clause.

At least then you can claim to be a rabid street vendor mouthing off and be protected.

But I doubt you'd understand the irony.

halojones-fan February 16, 2010 at 8:01 pm

Lance, if you have trouble reading lots of words, then why are you here posting on a writer's weblog?

Lance Larka February 17, 2010 at 3:12 am

oh fine, if you insist. Here is the condensed version of your drool and my condensed version of a response.

1) "Sounds good. But you need to define" …

Get a dictionary. Copy/Paste into law.

2) "in favor of a government-run censorship board."

No, just a regulatory board. Follow the rules and you can do what you want. If not, you can't.

3) "Hah. And of course only the Republicans ever run nasty ads or anything like that."

No, just politicians or their wanna-bees who have a dog in the game.

4) "being part of a secret cult of homosexual pedophiles"

If you say so. How's your membership recruitment going this year?

dubjay February 17, 2010 at 4:00 am

HJF, are you drinking again? Because I don't know how you got from what I said to what you said.

Amusing, though, that you agree with the notion that a non-partisan regulatory board charged with preventing politicians from running lying TV ads would only persecute Republicans.

Lance Larka February 17, 2010 at 4:08 am

dubjay, please keep HJF around. I'm really enjoying trying to understand his …er, manifestos.

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