Monday, January 23, 2006

No free speech for Indians.

It may seem wacky but the Supreme Court has held that money equals speech. Money is, in Tip O’Neill’s famous phrase, “the mother’s milk of politics.” Free speech is what gets your message out and that costs money.

Here’s how it works. Suppose you are an Indian tribe. You have a message that you want to promote. Let’s say, for example, the message goes like this: America has obligations to the Indians arising from treaties and from morality. Indians have been stymied in poverty. One way that the Indians can pull themselves out of this miasma is by providing what the people want: legalized gambling.

Note: This isn’t about whether you agree with that message or not. This is about whether or not Indians should be able to get that message into the public domain. As a responsible Indian leader you say, “How?”

Of course, Indians don’t talk like that any more: that was just an obscene stereotype from 1950’s television. Indians today use the sophisticated tools of political influence that are available to all citizens.

One such tool is getting people elected who have demonstrated a devotion to improving their lives. How to do that? Pass the mother’s milk, please. People who will represent the wants and needs of Indians need money to get elected.

Indians were faced with this exact problem. It turns out that Indians did something smart and something stupid. The smart thing they did was to give money to Democrats to help them get elected because they knew from past experience that Democrats actually care about Indians, not to mention health care, which is a critical issue for Indians.

The not so smart thing: hiring a Republican lobbyist who is a crook. It is long past the time when someone could argue that Jack Abramoff is anything but a completely unethical scumbag. That he is a Republican may strike some as a coincidence, but others see a pattern.

Congressmen and Senators have been falling all over themselves to give back money that Abramoff swindled from Indians and gave to Republicans. Actually, not so much give back, as give to charity. Which doesn’t necessarily help Indians, but that’s another blognote.

The important thing here is that not one red sou went from Abramoff to Democrats. Zero, zip, nada. Not a nickel, not a dime. Nothing. Bupkis.

Indians didn’t get swindled out of all their money. They still had some to give to help re-elect the people who had looked out for their interests over the years. Mostly these people were Democrats, because the only interest that Republicans like Abramoff had in Indians was figuring out how to swindle them.

But the Republican Ministry of Propaganda is promoting the idea that Indians, having been swindled by Republican’s shouldn’t be allowed to donate money to Democrats. According to this Republican worldview, free speech is for pharmaceutical companies and oil companies, not for Indians.

You may ask, How can the Republicans say something so incredibly anti-democratic? The answer is found in the incredibly misleading term, “Abramoff related money.”

For example, on Meet the Press, Tim Russert painted the screen with a pie chart that was labeled, “Abramoff Related Money 1999-2005.” It showed a blue 1/3 and a red 2/3 and the labeling indicated that 34% of said “Abramoff related money” went to Dems., and 63% went to Republicans. On the left of the chart it said “Democats $1.5 million, and on the right: “Republicans $2.9 million.” Underneath, it said, “Source: Center for Responsive Politics.” Here is the website for the Center for Responsive Politics.

If you go there, you will learn that the $1.5 million, and the $2.9 million figures represent the total amount of money received by the Dems and the Republicans, respectively, but not from Abramoff. Rather, in each case it is the total of money that was received from Abramoff PLUS the Indian tribes, who were exercising their free speech rights. Please note: in every election cycle, the amount of money given by the Indians exceeded the amount received by the Dems.

If it seems confusing, it helps if you think of it this way. Suppose that on Friday the 13th, your grocery story gives you a free coupon to buy five dollars worth of Sugar Pops. On the same day, a robber goes in there and holds up the proprietor at gun-point. When he is caught, they make him give back the $100 dollars he made off with. Should they make you give back the Sugar Pops? Why not? It’s all Friday-the-13th related.

The term, “Abramoff related money,” does not fall trippingly from the tongue. So Mary Matalin has provided a useful shorthand expression. See if you can spot it in this sentence, which she said on Meet the Press:

“Harry Reid refused to give back his Abramoff money.”

Look, I am all for a massive reform of the way campaigns are financed so that the playing field is level for you and me, for Indians, and for big industrial interests. That’s not the point, here. The point here is that the Republican congress, and the Republican administration is thoroughly corrupt, and now they are trying to intentionally mislead us to think that the problem is across the board. Their best defense is a pathetic, “Everyone does it.” And even that is not true. So they are willing to lie about it.

I’ve said elsewhere that it is deeply troubling to see what the current crop of crooks is doing to the country that I love so dearly. I can recall Watergate, and so I also recall thinking that the press would serve as a safeguard against the most extreme excesses of a corrupt government. Sadly, in this instance, Tim Russert was an accomplice to the slanderous lies of Mary Matalin.

“… and tell ‘em Big Mitch sent ya!”

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