Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Dinesh D'Souza and the First Amendment

by Dr. Gerard Emershaw 
Neoconservative author and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza was sentenced to eight months in a “community confinement center” and a $30,000 fine for making illegal campaign contributions. In 2012, campaign finance laws limited individuals to contributions of $2,500 to a single candidate in a primary and $2,500 in a general election. D’Souza’s crime was that he reimbursed two other individuals for making contributions to the campaign of New York U.S. Senate candidate Wendy Long.
The current limits for federal elections are $2,600 for both primary and general election. The real question in all this is how Congress can violate the freedom of speech of D’Souza or anyone else with such a law. Giving campaign contributions to political candidates is a form of speech. The First Amendment clearly states that Congress “shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.” Limiting campaign contributions, then, is like limiting the number of words that a person can say on a given topic. Should the federal government be able to imprison someone who has said too much on a given issue?
In 1974, following the Watergate scandal, Congress amended the Federal Election Campaign Act passed in 1971 to limit the amount that any given person could contribute to candidates or political parties in a calendar year. In McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission (2014), the Supreme Court ruled that aggregate limits, which placed a cap on the total amount that a person could contribute as a whole to multiple candidates, was an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment, but it held that the individual limits were constitutional. The individual limits were upheld by the Court in Buckley v. Valeo (1976), which held that limits on large campaign contributions were justified for “the prevention of corruption and the appearance of corruption spawned by the real or imagined coercive influence of large financial contributions on candidates' positions and on their actions if elected to office.” The Court defined ‘corruption’ as “large contributions … given to secure a political quid pro quo from current and potential office holders.”
The reason that the Court needed to jump through such hoops to justify a clear and egregious violation of the First Amendment is that the power of the federal government has grown far beyond the confines of the Constitution. Over the past century, the federal government has grown into a nearly almighty entity despite the fact that the enumerated federal powers in the Constitution are extremely limited. If Congress and the President performed their duties within the clear dictates of the Constitution, then they simply would not be worth attempting to buy. A minarchist night-watchman state—such as Emershaw’s Individualist State as developed in detail in my new book The Real Culture War—would not possess the power to do what crony capitalist special interests seek. However, an Imperial President which rules as a Caesar through unconstitutional executive agencies and executive orders and a Congress which rules like an oligarchy through misuse of the Commerce Clause, Necessary and Proper Clause, and General Welfare Clause are both well worth buying. Two wrongs do not make a right, and violating one of the sacrosanct Amendments present in the Bill of Rights in order to counterbalance the unconstitutional overgrowth of federal power is unacceptable. Fear of corruption is no justification to violate freedom of speech. However, perhaps this fear could be an inducement for the federal government to return to its constitutional limits.
(For a much more detailed discussion of natural rights including freedom of speech, read my new book The Real Culture War: Individualism vs. Collectivism & How Bill O’Reilly Got It All Wrong. Available now on Amazon in both print and Kindle.)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

On Ken Burns’ The Roosevelts

by Dr. Gerard Emershaw

Ken Burns is America’s greatest living documentarian. His work includes masterpieces such as The Civil War, Jazz, and Baseball. Burns’ latest PBS documentary The Roosevelts: An Intimate History is no exception. This 14-hour opus tells the story of Theodore Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. As with all of Burns’ documentaries, The Roosevelts employs excellent writing, compelling use of vintage photographs and recordings, skillful narration by Peter Coyote with dramatic voice work by Paul Giamatti (as Theodore Roosevelt), Meryl Streep (as Eleanor Roosevelt), and Edward Herrmann (as Franklin Delano Roosevelt), and a perfect musical score. Burns makes the history of the Roosevelt family come to life in a manner that is as entertaining as it is educational.

However, as can be expected, Burns skews the documentary with such left-wing bias that it practically becomes progressivist propaganda. For the most part, Burns’ facts are accurate. He rarely employs falsehoods. However, at times he downplays very important things in order not to risk sullying his progressive heroes Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt look. For example, Burns seriously underplays the genocidal war-crime infested imperialist war campaign against the Philippines that Theodore Roosevelt—who was perversely awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1905—carried out. Burns similarly refuses to dwell upon Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 to intern Japanese-Americans during World War II, using the atrocity mainly to make his female protagonist Eleanor Roosevelt—who opposed the policy—look good.

Even more inexcusably, Burns sometimes ignores very important things entirely when these facts do not fit in with his left-wing narrative. Theodore Roosevelt’s devotion to eugenics is never mentioned. Neither is the fact that Franklin D. Roosevelt based most of his New Deal on ideas that his closest advisers—his “Brains Trust”—adopted from Mussolini’s Fascist Italy and Stalin’s Soviet Union. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s War on Gold is similarly not discussed by Burns. It is not mentioned that FDR used Executive Order 6102 to seize the gold of the American people in 1933 or that he used Limitation Order L-208 to force gold mines to close during World War II. Such serious violations of due process are worth mentioning sometime during the course of 14 hours.

But most egregious is Burns’ treatment of the Federal Reserve. It is mentioned only once in passing. This ignores some very important historical facts. In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt’s progressive third party—The Bull Moose Party—was nearly completely financed by banker J.P. Morgan and his allies. Burns makes Theodore Roosevelt seem like a complete idealist, yet the House of Morgan had financed his campaigns from the very beginning with the understanding that the federal government would leave the banking interest alone. The Morgans and their allies financed Theodore Roosevelt’s run for President in 1912—after leaving office in 1909—in order to ensure that President Taft did not win. Taft opposed the idea of the Federal Reserve and unlike the other candidates Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, Taft had no problem with the idea of using anti-trust prosecutions to go after banks and other financial institutions. Morgan and the other major bankers needed to derail Taft so that they could cartelize to control the economy with the creation of a private central bank. Theodore Roosevelt ultimately became just a tool that played spoiler and swept Woodrow Wilson into office with only 42% of the popular vote—with most of his key support coming from racists in the South. Yet Burns conveniently ignores all of this. He also ignores the undeniable truth that the Federal Reserve—and not unregulated stock market speculation—created the Great Depression.

However, the biggest problem with Burns’ documentary is that the talking heads that he uses for commentary in between the dramatic segments are made up nearly entirely by historians of the left-wing persuasion. In fact, the only noticeable exception is George Will, whose conservative voice is nowhere near authoritative enough to provide appropriate balance. While it would have been inappropriate to turn the piece into a debate—its 14 hour length certainly does not need to be augmented—adding a libertarian voice into the mix would have provided more balance in order to give it greater historical objectivity.

Providing a one-sided array of historians creates a misleading, intellectually lazy, and dangerous context. The Constitution is treated as a nuisance that gets in the way of great leaders such as Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt. The ends are seen as justifying the means. No act no matter how negative the consequences is considered bad if it is done with good intentions. Government is worshipped while capitalists are vilified.

While it was certainly not Ken Burns’ intention, one who watches the entire series with a critical eye while ignoring the dubious propaganda is led to the following conclusions about the Roosevelts. Born into wealth, they never learned to appreciate that wealth must be created through hard work. Their family was good-hearted and philanthropic, but the money to give to charitable causes can only be created through private sector initiative in a free market. As a result, neither president understood that without the engine of business running at full strength, the vehicle of society simply will not take its members as far.

Even more key to understanding Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt is the idea that both viewed themselves as “Philosopher-Kings” who were sovereign over the people—and over the Constitution. They believed that they knew better than anyone else and that the Constitution just held them back. Theodore Roosevelt’s threat to nationalize the coal industry and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s threat to pack the Supreme Court demonstrated how they believed the law of the land did not apply to them. Such despotic behavior is typically adored by historians, and most of Burns’ assembled talking heads gush over each macho constitutional violation of the Roosevelts. But while such larger than life individuals make for compelling characters in works of fiction, real life presidents are best when they obey the Constitution. The wounds caused by progressivism are still festering even if Burns is unable or unwilling to notice them.

(For a much more detailed critique of the progressives, read my new book The Real Culture War: Individualism vs. Collectivism & How Bill O’Reilly Got It All Wrong. Available now on Amazon in both print and Kindle.)