Dick Durbin Questions The Wisdom Of The First Amendment

While many Americans were recognizing the solemn events of the Memorial Day Weekend, the inside the beltway Sunday news shows rolled inexorably on. One US Senator used the opportunity to call question the wisdom of one of the most sacred of all liberties that are protected by the Constitution. In a poorly timed attack on the freedoms that the soldiers we honored fought and died for, Dick Durbin questioned the First Amendment protections enjoyed by bloggers and users of social media:

Durbin’s direct assault on the First Amendment should be an outrage to all Americans, regardless of party. I have said over and over, especially in light of my articles exposing the lies by an Oregon State Senator, that Tea Party activists, bloggers and users of new media are the Thomas Paines and Ben Franklins of the modern age. Those guys didn’t need a license or a permit to tell the truth; why does Durbin think we need sanction to report facts? Durbin is on the front lines of the assault on liberty protected under the Constitution. Along with his liberal cohorts Sherrod Brown and Jeff Merkley, he clearly believes in nothing short of a Soviet politburo style of government – all this freedom obviously makes him nervous.

These three Senators have been vocal in their desire to pass a constitutional amendment that would upend the Citizens United ruling by SCOTUS. This idea that Citizens United fundamentally changed things in America is ludicrous – it upheld the basic freedoms of association, press, and speech as recognized in the First Amendment. For Durbin to say that people on Twitter or bloggers should require a license to publish is tantamount to him saying that individual citizens should have a license to have a conversation, or that Thomas Paine should have gotten permission from the Crown before publishing Common Sense. Durbin would have made a great enforcer in the royal court of King George III.

I will continue to beat this drum, because the freedom of the press is the foundation of our nation. It has been said many times that America is the first nation in the history of the world to be founded on an idea:

America was the first nation in human history founded upon an idea, the idea of political freedom. This idea is rooted in the fact that by nature, every human being possesses equal rights, and, by nature, every human being is born equally free. The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 – which expressed a view commonly held during the American Founding period – begins with a “declaration of rights,” which states, “All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.”

I don’t suppose it occurs to Durbin that his assault on the First Amendment would upend this idea.

Ed Morrissey made a good argument at Hot Air:

Here’s what the First Amendment actually says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”  Press at the time would certainly have meant newspapers, which were the high-tech information revolution of the day. It would also have included pamphleteers, perhaps even more than newspapers, as pamphleteers helped drive revolutionary sentiment.  Their modern-day analogs would arguable be bloggers and Twitter users, those who reported news and proclaimed opinions outside of the establishment press.

However, Durbin’s asking the wrong question.  The question isn’t who gets protected, but what.  Journalism is not an identity or a guild, but an action and a process — and anyone engaged in that activity must be treated equally before the law.  A shield law based on membership via employment in privileged workplaces or certified by guilds doesn’t protect journalism, it becomes rent-seeking behavior that ensures that only the large players get protected, as I wrote ten days ago.

I’m not sure which American Dick Durbin wants to live in, but it bears zero resemblance to the free society that was founded in direct opposition to the tyranny he thinks he opposes. Durbin’s statements are a stark reminder that tyranny most often grips a nation when it disguises itself as being for the common good.