Monday, January 25, 2010

Glenn Greenwald in the dust-bin

If you were wondering where the link to Glenn Greenwald's blog on on the top left column of this page went, I deliberately erased it. Why?

The Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision overturned over 100 years of jurisprudence and struck down all limits on corporate spending on political campaigns. Glenn Greenwald supports that decision, which is fine by me. The basis of his reasoning is that the Bill of Rights, and specifically the First Amendment is absolute: either a law is consonant with the strict letter of the Constitution or it is not. Since
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.
there are no limits to free speech, and the Supreme Court decision is right. (There is more, on whether money is equivalent to speech, and whether corporations, but these are really digressions from the real issue).

Again, so far, no complaints.

My view is different: the Bill of Rights does nothing to handle the competing claims against it. For instance, can the Muslim call for prayers be done over loudspeakers, as it is done in India? What about the right of people to a reasonable expectation of quiet? Do school students have unlimited free speech? What about school discipline? (The Supreme Court has upheld limits on students' rights on these very grounds.) The only way to balance these competing incompatible claims is to look at the outcomes and to decide which one is acceptable by contemporary standards and that is beneficient to society. The Congress has the task of making such choices (the courts can review them).

Glenn Greenwald does not accept this reasoning as even a legitimate point of view that we can agree to disagree on. For him only the absolutist reasoning is legitimate. As per him, those of us who share my reasoning are for the Constitution when it supports what we want and against it when it goes against us. His stance reminds me of that of the Islamic fundamentalist, to whom those who don't agree with him is munafiq.

I can understand the absolutist point of view, its fear of slippery slopes - if we yield an inch to the Congress, it will take a mile. To absolutists, rights (as in the text of the Constitution) are given sacred text, rather than conventions the Founding Fathers engineered precisely by considering (the historical experience of) the outcomes of not following the conventions, the outcome of judicial decisions is not important, all that matters is the adherence to text. I happily agree that when we have no good guide, then following the text strictly may be the best thing to do. But the century-plus of legislation on this issue arose precisely because following the text strictly didn't work; and there is a century worth of just-as-distinguished justices who did not find this legislation to be abridging the First Amendment.

I don't support fundamentalists of any type, and Greenwald's recent articles establish him to be one, by my way of thinking. Hence the move to the trash.