Sunday, May 11, 2014

P.J. O'Rourke on the History of Political Lies

The Cato Institute, aided by the great American satirist and sage P.J. O'Rourke, recently filed a brief opposing Ohio's recently passed law forbidding, um, untruths in political campaigns:




"I am not a crook."

"Read my lips: no new taxes!"

"I did not have sexual relations with that woman."

"Mission accomplished."

"If you like your healthcare plan, you can keep it."



While George Washington may have been incapable of telling a lie, his successors have not had the same integrity. The campaign promise (and its subsequent violation), as well as disparaging statements about one’s opponent (whether true, mostly true, mostly not true, or entirely fantastic), are cornerstones of American democracy. Indeed, mocking and satire are as old as America, and if this Court doesn’t believe amici, it can ask Thomas Jefferson, “the son of a half-breed squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.” Or perhaps it should ponder, as Grover Cleveland was forced to, “Ma, ma, where’s my pa?”


After all, where would we be without the knowledge that Democrats are pinko-communist flag-burners who want to tax churches and use the money to fund abortions so they can use the fetal stem cells to create pot-smoking lesbian ATF agents who will steal all the guns and invite the UN to take over America? Voters have to decide whether we’d be better off electing Republicans, those hateful, assault-weapon-wielding maniacs who believe that George Washington and Jesus Christ incorporated the nation after a Gettysburg reenactment and that the only thing wrong with the death penalty is that it isn’t administered quickly enough to secular-humanist professors of Chicano studies.


Ohio’s ban of lies and damn lies is inconsistent with the First Amendment.

This Court has repeatedly held that political speech, including and especially speech about politicians, merits the highest level of protection. See, e.g.Burson v. Freeman, 504 U.S. 191, 196 (1992) (“the First Amendment has its fullest and most urgent application to speech uttered during a campaign for political office.”). Indeed, quite recently this Court held that the First Amendment protects outright lies with as much force as the truth. United States v. Alvarez, 132 S. Ct. 2537 (2012).

It is thus axiomatic—not merely truthy—that speech may only be restricted or regulated where doing so is necessary to further a compelling state interest. But the government has no compelling interest in eliminating truthiness from electioneering and, even if such an interest existed, such laws are unnecessary because any injury that candidates suffer from false statements is best redressed by pundits and satirists—and if necessary, civil defamation suits. Nor is the government well-suited for evaluating when a statement crosses the line into falsehood.

Ohio’s law blatantly violates the First Amendment and directly conflicts with Alvarez. This Court should terminate it with extreme prejudice.

More great American sagacity [with footnotes]  here.

3 comments:

Jonathan Rowe said...

PJ O'Rourke always makes me go LOL.

Jason Pappas said...

Didn't we reject John Adam's Sedition Act long ago?

Given the lies told about Jefferson in subsequent campaigns it's amazing he let the law expire. I understand he used it first before he let it expired. Ah, power, ...

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