A case to be decided later this year by the U.S. Supreme Court challenges an Ohio state law that makes it illegal for candidates or interest groups to lie about an opposing politician’s record during election season.
I’m sure some of you are pondering, “Then what’s LEFT for them to say?” Which is a fair question, since most Americans get the bulk of their “information” about candidates via ubiquitous 30-second TV and radio ads, which often sound like one of those drug ads that spend most of the time warning you about deleterious side effects:
WARNING: VOTING FOR THE OTHER CANDIDATE MAY INDUCE INCREASED TAXES, HIGHER UNEMPLOYMENT, RISING CRIME RATES, BANK FAILURES, SCHOOL CLOSINGS, LOWER PROPERTY VALUES, IRAN GETTING A NUCLEAR BOMB, THE ABORTION POSITION YOU OPPOSE BECOMING THE LAW OF THE LAND, DITTO GAY MARRIAGE, INVASION BY FINLAND, THE IMPOSITION OF SHAR’IA LAW, THE EXPULSION OF YOUR FAVORITE TEAM FROM THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE, AND SCURVY.
But reportedly almost 1/3 of our states have laws against such political fibbing.
The roots of this particular case go back to 2010 when the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List ran ads claiming that Democratic congressman Steve Driehaus supported taxpayer-funded abortions, because he supported- wait for it – the Affordable Care Act – which somehow finds itself at the middle of EVERYTHING. In reality, Dreihaus’ support hinged on President Obama agreeing to issue an executive order specifying that insurance plans in the program would NOT use tax dollars for abortion. So Dreihaus sued SABL, lost the election and subsequently dropped the suit. SBAL sued to have the law overturned anyway.
To give you an idea how jumbled this matter is, its made “strange bedfellow” allies of SBAL and the pro-choice (and pro-First Amendment) ACLU, and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is simultaneously arguing that SBAL lacks standing to file the case while filing an opposing brief that the law should indeed be overturned. An added twist is that DeWine himself was ruled to have made false claims about his opponent by the Ohio Elections Commission back in the 1970s during his successful campaign to become Green County Prosecutor. Whew!
Arguing in favor of the law banning lying is the sad irony that quite often those with their hands on the very levers of democracy, free elections and the right to vote – candidates, their handlers, public and special interest groups – don’t trust the public to make the right decision based on an honest and robust debate over the issues, but instead find it incumbent to win by smearing the opposing candidate. Falsifying John Kerry’s war record and planting rumors that John McCain fathered a child out of wedlock are two particularly egregious modern-age examples. Most of us probably agree that it makes a mockery of our system to have elections decided on such falsehoods, ergo the need for the laws.
Plus, you know, being pro-honesty just SOUNDS right.
Arguing against the law is the reality that if we disqualified candidates who tell lies from holding office, George Washington would still be President!
Besides, when “Truthers” argue that Obama was not born in the U.S., are they lying, or merely deluded? What about those who holler that the Affordable Care Act (that, again) will facilitate the end of life on Earth as we know it? Are they liars? Dupes? Seers?
Allowing “lying” lawsuits opens the door for suits against candidates and groups that: knowingly lie about their opponent; technically tell the truth; tell the truth but are sued anyway to intimidate and defund them, and; counter-sue, claiming its the other side whose pants are on fire.
Not to mention the candidates themselves being sued for misrepresenting their voting records, something that its rumored they do on occasion, like, for example, insisting they have no intention to end Social Security, when their “Social Security Preservation & Fortification Act” completely guts it.
Finally, it would put enormous pressure on “protected” media outlets like talk radio and FOX News to pick up the slack and spread all the lies and innuendo by themselves. That’s a lot to ask of any organization, even one headed by Roger Ailes.
The ironic thing is that even if the law is upheld and similar laws spread as a result, eradicating truth-fudging from our political discourse, and campaigns became bastions of truth-telling, very little would change:
Because telling the truth about the other guy is almost as bad.
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