Saturday, August 29, 2009

Government, Inc?

In his book Prologue to a Farce: Communications and Democracy in America, Mark Lloyd, the Obama Administration's Communications Diversity Czar, proposed funding public radio through a tax on commercial radio stations. Invoking the spirit of Saul Alinsky, an icon of the radical left, Lloyd insisted that the history of communications in this country is a history of control by corporate interests. And Lloyd's proposed use of the tax on commercial radio to fund "regional offices" organized to monitor political advertising and commentary, among other things---is sending chills through the conservative blogosphere.

Most people familiar with the internet know that nobody is in control---and frankly, most of us like it that way. The Government is busy enough making a mess of the things it currently has on its hands without looking for new ways to make a hash of things. And given the current angry, skeptical mood of the country these days, it is doubtful that a proposal of this sort could survive the light of day...though, given the current raft of thousand-page bills that nobody in Congress seems to read these days, I suppose that anything is possible.

It is, of course, entirely possible that the entire frenzy is merely a visceral reaction to hyperbole and overstatement by the other side. Now, faced with the responsibility of governing, Mr. Lloyd will find that it was a lot easier to spout off idealistic rhetoric when he didn't have the responsibility of seeing whether his ideas would actually work.

But as I see it, the real concern is whether the Government will be attempting an "end-around" the First Amendment to muzzle voices that it finds objectionable. The means used would be the tax laws wrapped in the language of "diversity"...either of language or skin color, but the objective will be to bring an end to talk radio.

If the Government is merely trying to "expand" access to the means of communication, then the Obama Administration may well propose a modest subsidy to permit new voices to be heard, and give them a chance to win over an audience, but they will do nothing to interfere with the broadcasters,themselves. If they are trying to "muzzle" speech, then their tactic will likely be taxing or otherwise punishing those who are raising dissenting voices: ie, the conservatives, and particularly the conservative radio talk shows.

Part of the problem is that so many people seem to misperceive the role of the Government, though. The Government does not exist to "protect our rights." It exists to protect our society---from crime, from foreign enemies---and to permit people to liberty to set their own destinies. The Founders cautioned that power is always seeking to advance, and that Liberty is usually seeking nothing more than to be left alone.. As a consequence, institutionalized power --- ie, the Government--- needs to be contained, or it will attempt to swallow liberty.

Government itself is neither good nor bad...but is necessary for liberty to thrive. But viewing Government as a "protector of rights" is dangerous: the rights contained in the Bill of Rights were written down to guard against intrustion by the Government. It was felt that only by setting them down clearly on paper---as the fundamental charter of the land---would we be able to keep Power within safe limits. People are fully capable of protecting their own rights...since "rights," if properly understood, impose limits not on private conduct, but on intrusions by the State (aka, "Big Brother," aka "Big Government). This is distinct from a "mandate," by which the Government attempts to control conduct directly through the use of statutes or other forms of regulations. When "mandates" intrude on "rights"---as if, for instance, the Government imposes a "fairness doctrine" to compel people to subsidize what it defines as a fair mix of viewpoints---problems arise. And when the Government tries using its coercive power to restructure society in a way that most people oppose...then we have tea parties, rowdy town hall meetings, and citizen revolts.

Some suggest that the Government's efforts would not be to restrict free speech, but only to "expand the accessibility" to free speech. But if I own a radio station that the Government takes away because it disapproves of the political content of the opinions I'm airing, how is that not "restricting" my First Amendment rights? And how is that different from the "free speech" rights in Venezuala...or Cuba...or the Ayattola's Iran...or even Soviet Russia?

Mark Lloyd is proposing to increase the broadcast subsidies "to levels commensurate with or above" those of commercial broadcasting. If the People of this country are agree, and want to provide subsidies out of their tax dollars (rather than bail out the banks, or the car companies, or fund Heath Care Reform, or do any of a number of things that the Administration is simultaneously insisting are vitally needed), then so be it. But as I understand it, that is not his proposal: he wants to impose a tax equal to 100% of the operating budget of the commercial radio stations, as the means of "leveling the playing field."

It is, of course, possible that his ideas are not actually intended to drive commercial radio out of business, leaving only government-run stations in operation. It is entirely possible that he is so ignorant of the principles of economics that he does not realize the consequences of what, to him, is merely pretty, idealistic rhetoric. But when I see these sorts of ideas emerging from the shadows, at the same time I also see Washington moving to take over the banks, the auto industry, the health care system, and God-knows what else, I think it's time to slow down the politicians before they do some real damage...and to have a real discussion about what we want this country to be: Government of, by, and for the People; or Government, Inc.

JEFFREY CAMINSKY, a veteran public prosecutor in Detroit, Michigan, specializes in the appellate practice of criminal law and writes on a wide range of topics. His books include the science fiction adventure novel The Star Dancers, the exciting second volume in the Guardians of Peace-tm series, The Sonnets of William Shakespeare, and the acclaimed Referee’s Survival Guide, a book on soccer officiating. All are published by New Alexandria Press, and are available on Amazon, as well as directly from the publisher.

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