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"Free Speech" Winnows the List of Candidates

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Winnow (noun) The act of separating grain from chaff.

If we are indeed winnowing, then America has been winnowed into three guys left standing on the Republican side and two Democrats. Something like 5 out of 24, depending on who you count. Whether they are wheat or chaff depends upon your point of view.

This, with less that 1% of the electorate having had a chance to put their mark on a ballot or finger on a screen. Free speech is not so free anymore.
The latest numbers (always a calendar quarter behind because of reporting regulations) stripped mainstream America of the voices of

  • Fred Thompson
  • Bill Richardson
  • Ron Paul
  • Dennis Kucinich
  • Mike Huckabee
  • Joe Biden

and are about to add John Edwards to the list.

How you feel about that depends upon how hot you are to see Hillary or Barack, Mitt, Rudy or John lead the country. Is it enough to have the choice by dollars raised rather than votes counted?

If it is, then why not just do a national copy of that thermometer the United Way used to tell us how we were doing on their fund-raising in town?

Forget the rhetoric.

The point I’m trying to make is that the Supreme Court, some decades back, irreparably muddied the distinction between ‘free speech’ and the ‘freedom to speak.’ We are constitutionally protected in our right to the freedom to speak. Stand up and voice your opinion. Write whatever the papers will print.

Blame the media if you care to. Along with an addiction to polls, it’s another American need to find blame, to have someone to pin the goods on and then get on with our lives. There’s no convenient evil upon which to blame the hijacking of speech in America.

But the Court made it law. Time after time after time, in a frenzy of dithering, our highest court stood meekly in defense of whoever had the bucks to demagogue the subject of their choice.

  • Attack ads to defeat gun control—just write the checks.
  • Anti-gay, anti-conservative, anti-liberal, anti-war, anti-Islam—all you need is enough money to swamp the opposition. Not with speech, with media.
  • Lawsuits to manhandle your way into this or that issue? You got the money, honey, I got the time.

I am certainly not so naïve as to think that money wasn't always a weapon for or against public opinion.

But it seems prudent to take a look at the longest-running, most arduent, mind-bogglingly unending presidential race (that has been going on for a year and a half already and has near a year left to run). Essentially, it's been settled for us in five days.

By the electorate? Not on your life. Iowa and New Hampshire. What a laugh.
As Jon Stewart quipped, it's been determined by “cold white people and colder white people.”

Issues will get hot though as this veritable tie among front-runners develops. But they’ll heat up without the voices of Fred, Bill and Ron; Dennis, Mike and Joe. There won’t be a “hey, wait a minute” voice. No designated hitter in this ball-game.

The front-runners will hedge, slice and dice their bets slicker than sub-prime mortgages. American politics has become a mad rush for the center of the ‘base,’ whatever the hell the base is and however the pollsters define it for us.

We've become another commodity. Shake us, bake us, tag our ear and ship us.

In two days we will have the results in Michigan and Hillary and Barack need not spend another moment (during the race or afterward) giving a damn about lost jobs and pensions in the Wolverine State. Hillary and Barack have each raised $100 million and John Edwards (outfunded by three to one) will no doubt throw in the towel in a few days.

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Jim Freeman's op-ed pieces and commentaries have appeared in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, International Herald-Tribune, CNN, The New York Review, The Jon Stewart Daily Show and a number of magazines. His thirteen published books are (more...)
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