A Reply to a Column in my Local Paper

My local newspaper, Foster's Daily Democrat, publishes a lot of reader-generated content, mostly letters. A few of mine have appeared over the years, but I get most of my self-expression jollies right here on Pun Salad.

Back on April 13, Foster's published a short column from Wayne H. Merritt. Merritt is a prolific letter-writer, always echoing stale Democratic Party talking points; I suspect Foster's decided to "upgrade" one of his letters.

The column was an attack on Supreme Court decisions, Citizens United v. FEC and the more recent McCutcheon v. FEC. At least it started out that way; by the end, he'd wandered off into recommending pothole repair. But while he was on that topic, Merritt was, to put it mildly, aghast, accusing the "five Conservative justices" of holding "our system of democracy, with free and fair elections, in such contempt."

I was irritated enough to pen the following letter, sending it off on April 14. It has not yet been published, maybe won't be. In any case, I thought I'd share it:

To the Editor:

I couldn't decide whether to be amused or saddened by the April 13 op-ed column ("Conservative contempt") by Wayne H. Merritt. It purports to criticize recent Supreme Court decisions on campaign finance regulation (Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC).

But here are some words and phrases that don't appear in Mr. Merritt's column: "Constitution"; "First Amendment"; "Free Speech". That ought to be a bright red flag to any reader: you can't write a cogent analysis of these Supreme Court rulings without mentioning at least one of those things somewhere along the line. But instead the column quickly wanders off into the usual GOP-bashing.

Chief Roberts' opinion in McCutcheon puts the issue thus: "If the First Amendment protects flag burning, funeral protests, and Nazi parades-despite the profound offense such spectacles cause-it surely protects political campaign speech despite popular opposition." You may not agree with this assertion, but you shouldn't pretend it doesn't exist.

Let's not forget what Citizens United was about: the government claiming the power to impose criminal penalties on an organization for daring to advertise their anti-Hillary Clinton movie. During the Supreme Court argument, the government also claimed their power extended to banning books (and jailing their publishers) if they contained forbidden words appearing too close to an election.

To me, the dismaying thing is that there were any Supreme Court justices coming down on the other side of the argument.

Mr. Merritt's thesis seems to be that unless the voting public is protected from "too much" political speech (financed by contributions from people of whom he disapproves) they'll be too weak-minded to resist. The people simply can't be trusted to evaluate competing arguments and make up their own minds.

That's a pretty damning indictment of the competence of the voting public. And yet, Mr. Merritt claims the other side is the one that holds our system of democracy "in such contempt." That's funny. Or sad. As I said above, I can't decide.

Last Modified 2014-08-06 9:12 AM EDT