Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sparing No Free Speech Expense

A week after the recent Supreme Court ruling that advanced individual rights to corporations and unions I heard an interview with a CEO / lawyer / author / ACLU guy who wrote a book called "Can they really do that?" He said that the inverse of the rights of groups to be individuals is not true. He said that employees have no rights inside corporations. The first amendment does not apply at all. That means free speech exists when you pay for it. But if you take it for free you're basically stealing from your employer.

If corporations are people shouldn't they be allowed to own guns? If unions are voters shouldn't they be allowed to purchase the holidays that will hold our future elections? If our political system is dysfunctional shouldn't self-interested groups be allowed to throw their own money at our collective miseries?

If the logic is a stretch so is the cognitive leap that the plural of constitutional freedoms is unlimited spending on public speech. First the lines between church and state began to blur. Could spirituality survive without organized religion? Try making that case to Focus on the Family. Now comes the collision of privileged and public communications. Parties are now treated as persons. And if those parties can operate in an unfettered political climate they are not only parties but first parties: I am. Therefore I spend my mind freely.

The goal is not about becoming the firstest of first parties but to influence the electorate/consumer. These are third parties. In the 20th century third parties were considered the influence-peddlers who pretended to have no stake in the games they were handicapping through their research and commentary. Anyone remember the run up to the dotcom implosion? It was paved with the investment reports of financial analysts whose employers sanctioned the IPOs of the same profit-challenged start-ups they were praising all the way to the ugly meltdown.

The purpose of unions and corporations is the same for all successful organizations in a capitalist system. It's to deliver to its members more wealth and power than they could ever attain as individuals. This is the practical consequence of the first amendment in our gilded contemporary age. To the individual any form of free speech is quite expensive if the goal is to slice through the din of today's media web. "Free" according to the new framings is not a limited time offer. Freedom is the right to be heard regardless of how noisy the chambering echoes of the marketplace.

If we follow money and the rationale its underwrites we see a day where super-agencies will absorb and incubate, and trial balloon policy directions like thinktanks. They will train, fund, and ultimately deploy squadrons of candidates to mouth these appeals. This is too big a temptation for merchandisers to pass up. Instead of competing against ruthless (and countless) competitors, these political factories need only face off against a single opponent (assuming the two parties continue to reach the post season year after tedious year).

For self-modeled political outsiders they will no longer be encumbered by dancing to the fundraising shakedowns that we suffered through or the horse-trading sausage barrel of cable news monkeys and their partisan medleys. They can stand up for their convictions because their political goals are in lock-sync with the commercial objectives of their affiliate factories. What could be more sincere?

Carpet-bagging will go the way of the pay phone. That's not because political talents are likelier to go homegrown. That's because we're looking to bond with people who promise to leave us alone. If we don't know our neighbors what does it matter if our officials suit up with the hometown teams? We want to be surrounded by winners -- even when these victories come at the expense of the greater community good. What could be less appealing to profit-making than catering to active communities when I can sell directly to unquestioning location-neutral market segments?

Here are some practical implications:

* Instead of the instant distrust that greets any elected official that stands by the people and sides with their backers, the new system will bring those backers and their back rooms to the clarifying front of the political stage.

* Corporations ran the world long before the United v. FCC case was ever heard. But if they are now sanctioned to run our elections the sham of representative democracy is over. Our disbelief is in permanent suspension.

* We (nation) get what I (corporate) pay for. If our concerns are not being addressed that's because there's not enough of me to go around. Another round of tax cuts won't change this.

It's not that we won't get fooled again. It's that we can't.

No comments:

Bookmark and Share

About attentionSpin

My photo
attentionSpin is a consulting practice formed in 1990 to create, automate and apply a universal scoring system (“The Biggest Picture”) to brands, celebrities, events and policy issues in the public eye. In the Biggest Picture, attentionSpin applies the principles of market research to the process of media analytics to score the volume and nature of media coverage. The explanatory power of this research model: 1. Allows practitioners to understand the requirements for managing the quality of attention they receive 2. Shows influencers the level of authority they hold in forums where companies, office-seekers, celebrities and experts sell their visions, opinions and skills 3. Creates meaningful standards for measuring the success and failure of campaigns and their connection to marketable assets.