Rep. Jim McGovern, Democrat of Worcester, had a debate with Republican Marty Lamb last night. During a discussion of campaign-finance reform, McGovern offered one of those quotes that you’ll probably be hearing a lot about in the final weeks:
“A lot of the campaign-finance laws we’ve passed have been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. I think the Constitution is wrong. I don’t think money is free speech.”
It’s easy to take “I think the Constitution is wrong” and think we have another Phil Hare “I don’t care about the Constitution” moment. But while I disagree with McGovern, I don’t think his statement is so ipso facto outrageous, or at least as outrageous as Hare’s. From time to time, the American people have concluded something is missing or unneeded in the Constitution and amended it. Today, few would argue the Constitution was wrong during the era of Prohibition. Some on the right might argue that “the Constitution is wrong” when the Supremes argue that it protects flag burning or obscene material.
If Massachusetts voters want to toss out McGovern for being a down-the line-liberal who believes in a living Constitution, that’s fine, and from where I sit, Republican Marty Lamb’s stances are preferable. But thinking that our rights under the Constitution have been wrongly defined doesn’t strike me nearly as bad as Hare’s casual disregard of the entire notion of Constitutional limits on government authority. Hare’s attitude is a menace; McGovern is just wrong.
. . . what he said was still pretty bad, because he is not merely disagreeing in general, but specifically about the freedom of expression. Freedom of expression goes directly to the heart of whether this is a republic or not. A nation that has no freedom of expression is not a republic or a democracy, even if you have the right to vote. I mean the syllogism is pretty direct. The right to make a choice implies the right to make an informed choice. The right to make an informed choice requires me to hear lots of information regarding that choice. That means in terms of speech, that people and yes, even corporations, must feel free to express themselves so that you can get the maximum amount of information about that choice, so you can make an informed choice. Thus the right to choose between two candidates is meaningless without the right to speak freely about them.So disagreeing with the constitution is not per se bad, but disagreeing with free expression is. Put simply, the right to debate should not be up for debate.
However, another reader wondered if what McGovern meant to say was that he thought the Supreme Court was wrong.
ANOTHER UPDATE: McGovern’s statement dealing with his words:
Last night, I had a slip of the tongue. While answering a question about the awful Supreme Court campaign finance decision, I used the word “Constitution” rather than “Court Decision.” Everyone in the room recognized it as a slip of the tongue, but it’s silly season, and my opponent is now cheaply capitalizing on the error in a bid to try to change the subject from his blatant flip-flopping on major issues.