James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association, a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media, and a professor of communication studies at Whitworth University.

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Election ads to be even more obnoxious in 2010

Posted by James McPherson on January 21, 2010

Scott Brown’s election to the Senate, while interesting, isn’t the event this week that will have the biggest effect on the future of the American political process. A much more important (and activist, considering the overturning of legal precedent without corresponding new facts) decision is the one today by the Supreme Court to ban corporate spending limits on political speech, killing the McCain-Feingold act in the process.

McCain, still confused over whether as a Republican he’s supposed to be a shill for big business or a protector of the people, offered a weak criticism of the decision. The 5-4 decision (aren’t they all, anymore?) extends the conservative corporate tradition of treating corporations as if they are individuals (except with much more money and less moral guidance than most people have).

Frankly, as a near-First Amendment absolutist, I have mixed emotions about the decision from a theoretical perspective. From a practical view, however, I have little doubt that future campaigns will be even more negative and more riddled with lies and smears than past elections. An already-broken political process in which most Americans already get their political information from clearly biased pundits and paid advertising will become even worse.

With the news media flailing and perhaps less likely to have the ability to provide meaningful perspective to political events–even if they had the will to do so and more Americans had the will to pay attention–those who care about the process would be well advised to bookmark FactCheck.org, PolitiFact.com, Snopes.com, TruthOrFiction.com, Open Secrets, SourceWatch.org and USAspending.gov, and plan to check them often.

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5 Responses to “Election ads to be even more obnoxious in 2010”

  1. “Frankly, as a near-First Amendment absolutist, I have mixed emotions about the decision from a theoretical perspective”

    Well, I consider myself an originalist and conservative and I have no mixed emotions. The US consititution does not allow for corporations to be viewed as people. The constitution does no define the word speech to include bags of cash. Free Speech means government can’t tell people what to say. We sure as hell can tell companies they can’t dole out cash willy nilly.

    At the least, can we make sure that no corporation making donations has any foreign stock holders? Otherwise wouldn’t this ruling allow foreign citizens to interfere in our domestic politics?

  2. James McPherson said

    “The US consititution does not allow for corporations to be viewed as people. The constitution does not define the word speech to include bags of cash.”

    Actually, though I don’t consider myself to be either an originalist or a conservative, I agree with this. I think the court decisions to treat corporations as individuals (primarily Darmouth College v. Woodward in 1819, when some of the original originalists presumably were still around, and Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad in 1886) were among the worst in Supreme Court history.

    “At the least, can we make sure that no corporation making donations has any foreign stock holders?”

    Probably not, I think. And I’d bet that most major corporations have some.

    “Otherwise wouldn’t this ruling allow foreign citizens to interfere in our domestic politics?”

    Absolutely a possibility, in my view. And since most corporations are transnational–Japanese and Korean automakers are making cars in anti-union southern states while “American” companies bulid many of theirs in Canada and Mexic–which should have more “rights”? The Court’s so-called conservative justices–which have now proven themselves to be more “activist” than most of the justices that conservatives traditionally rail against–have unleashed all sorts of potential political hell.

    I’ve complained for years that corporations own too much of the political process (why I’ve made the arguement that Bill Clinton was our most successful Republican president). Now they can own it more completely and more openly. In a poorly informed political society, corporations will do far more to harm the middle class in American than will Obama’s supposed “socialism.”

    Thanks for the comment, BookGuy. And for other readers, I encourage you to check out his site, linked with his name above.

  3. […] used in this way lets us see and weigh arguments by those whom we elect–not just by those who pay for […]

  4. […] in response to a Chicago case, the activist Supreme Court probably will further the Wild West approach to gun ownership favored by the National Rifle […]

  5. […] were more conservative than the people they pretend to serve. But as long as corporations have more political power and more interest in the process than people do, those in power will continue to benefit from an […]

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