John Edwards vs. The First Amendment

It now seems like every day that we hear more lunacy from the increasingly desperate Edwards campaign. Yesterday it was attempts to suppress news from a student journalist. His lack of respect for the First Amendment is seen yet again in his proposal to suppress advertising of new drugs.

I’ve never been very fond of such pharmaceutical company advertising as they are intended to drive sales of more expensive medications when cheaper alternatives will often work as well. However because we do not like something does not mean we should use the power of government to suppress it. This especially pertains to speech we might disapprove of.

There are alternatives to attempting to suppress free speech. When patients come in requesting a prescription based upon an advertisement I’ll often explain how the ads are used to try to sell higher priced medications which are not necessarily the best for them. All other things being equal I tend to avoid prescribing medications which are advertised. For example, when a patient needs a proton pump inhibitor, it is very unlikely I’ll prescribe a purple one. Many insurance companies are using educational programs to encourage patients to use less expensive alternatives–although this must also be watched to ensure that insurance companies are not also trying to deny patients a more expensive alternative to save money.

Following my recent criticism of Edwards’ junk economics, we also see more examples in this report from The Concord Monitor. Just as some Republicans are wrong when they claim that any government action to solve a problem is bad, Edwards is wrong in his belief that all problems must be solved by big government programs.

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  1. 1
    Mary Ann Evans says:

    Be careful about equating dollars spent on advertising with free speech. The political right is relentlessly pushing that message for an obvious reason. Unfortunately, now that money is now more generously flowing to Democrats and their causes, I fear that they, rarely paupers themselves, will also allow the very wealthy to turn what is left of our democracy into an oligarchy.

    I assume that you may be a physician or a pharmacist–it’s nice of you to try to counsel your patients/clients to opt for cheaper medications, but you are not with them in the voting booth when they pull the level to support a fascist idea that has been sold to them as essential to their liberty.

    Huge sums of money spent on issue advocacy and political candidacy subverts the one man one vote principle. The ability of one person or industry lobby to purchase the votes needed to carry their position is in my opinion a subversion of democracy rather than a bedrock example of it. Why don’t you give this idea some some careful thought and write about it.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    My, that’s quite presumptuous in assuming that someone who disagrees with you has not given an issue careful thought. Similarly it is rather presumptuous to assume all conservatives are purely interested in political expedience and not principle when they protest restrictions on political advertising. Your comment gives the impression of saying “you must agree with me or be reeducated as to the proper way to think.”

    It appears that you are the one who needs to give more thought to your ideas before labeling the beliefs of others “fascist” while defending a candidate with as poor a record on matters of individual liberty as John Edwards. Your post actually provides a powerful message against the campaign finance regulations you back.

    These are not simple matters, and require far more thought than you appear to have given to them. Yes, the ability of the wealthy to overly influence elections is a matter of concern, but so are the civil liberties implications of restricting expression of one’s beliefs because they are rich and you disagree with them.

    Political advertising and product advertising are two different topics. If there is any justification to limiting campaign-related advertising this must be strictly isolated from other areas. When you extend this from political campaigns to advertising pharmaceuticals you confirm fears that this is a dangerous precedent to set.

  3. 3
    Mary Ann Evans says:

    Wow! I just wanted to hear what you think about the impact of huge amounts of money spent on political advertising by special interests. Are such expenditures actually a protected form of free speech, or do they have the potential to subvert democracy?

    Regarding the fascism comment, I see how you might have believed I was directing that comment at you, and you have my apology. I actually saw some balance in your posts and wanted to know your opinion about money being spent on political advertising being equated with free speech and had no intention to be insulting.

    My concerns about Fascism relate to political issues like preemptive war, the use of torture, equating criticism with anti-Americanism, etc. Bought and paid for pundits and media advertising are marshalled to support such policies. Sure, many who support such actions believe they are protecting democracy, but to me it seems that huge expenditures give unfair advantage to the economic interests of those who would destroy important principles of our society and subvert any potential for economic opportunity for the poor and their children.

    I wasn’t in the least trying to trash you perspective. I just want to know what you think. We may or may not disagree, but I don’t wish to be disrespectful.

    By the way, I think much more highly of John Edward ideas than you, but that’s not what want to discuss with you. John is not going to win the nomination, so you can be pleased about that.

    Right back at you regarding your comment that, “…you must agree with me or be reeducated as to the proper way to think.” Nothing in my comments can reasonably be interpreted to suggest that “…all consevatives are purely interested in expedience and not principle when they protest restrictions on politican advertising” To the contrary, I suggested that liberals are up the same game now that money is flowing their way. Money in politics and the effect it’s having on democracy is my concern, not the direction (right or left) to which it flows. In fact, I’m one who usually sees middle ground and takes nuianced positions rather than using terms like always and never to describe those with whom I disagree. Let’s give this another respectful try. What say you?

  4. 4
    Ron Chusid says:

    Mary Ann,

    I realized you were applying fascist to me, but I do disagree with characterizing conservative policies as being fascist and ignoring their philosophical objections to restrictions on political advertising.

    As I noted above, this is really a different topic than the topic of the post. This is also an issue where the answer is far from clear. There are problems with money in politics, but I also don’t see any fair way in which this can be eliminated. The success of Democratic candidates in raising money, both corporate and from small donors, does show that this doesn’t have to tilt things to the advantage of one party.

    The question comes down to how you regulate political advertising without infringing upon the rights of individuals who do want to spend their money to express their views. What if it is George Soros who is spending the money? When there is a candidate like Edwards, whose campaign comes down to offering to tax the rich to give everything and anything to those who vote for him, I cannot blame the wealthy for wanting to spend money to get their side out. Similarly, when Edwards demonizes corporations, the corporations have a right to advertise to protect themselves.

    While spending money has the risk of tilting the balance of power towards the rich, restricting political advertising runs the risk of doing the opposite in shifting the balance towards politicians who practice Edwards-style populism. Fortunately most voters see through him and, as you say he will probably not win the nomination. However this cannot be said for certain as only around 5% of eligible voters turn out in the Iowa caucuses and anything could happen there. While I doubt that a Iowa win would be enough for Edwards as it was for Kerry, the danger does remain that Edwards could win in Iowa and move on from there.

  5. 5
    Mary Ann Evans says:


    I assume that in your first sentence you meant to say that you realized that I was “not” applying the term fascist to you.

    I do not understand why you continue to mistate my beliefs based on assumptions that what I’ve actually written do not support. I’ts clear by my previous comments that whether huge amounts of money are given by Soros or Murdock, I believe it is a problem. I certainly do not believe that traditional small government conservatives are fascists. In fact, I see myself as an economic conservative (Tax enough to pay for whatever level of government you choose and don’t make it the job of govenment to address all problems and grievences).

    On the other hand I lean toward social liberalism. I’m certainly not interested in regulating anyone else’s sex sex life nor do I support “enhanced” interrogation, etc. More specifically, I believe that many of the tactics our government is employing in the so called “War on Terror” are fascist, but I’m absolutely not labeling conservatives in general as fascist.

    As a California resident part of the time (my spouse is a European, so we’ll had residency in both the USA and EU countries) I have seen numerous examples over the years of advocacy ads on various propositions when millions of corporate dollars have been spend to misrepresent the real intent of a proposition. Opponents are hamstrung because of the overwhelming dollar advantage of corporate interests. I will concede that sometimes the public sees through the straw man tactics, but often the money carries the day.

    Based on the title of your blog and other posts you’ve written, it’s probably that you and agree on many if not most issues. I realize that there are no simple solutions to the problem I’ve identified, but wouldn’t you at least agree that an advocacy group calling itself the citizens for fair government that is actually a shill for corporate interests lobbying to avoid a proposition that endorces environment standards (this is just a generic example) subverts democratic principles. These kind of ads are common as is “fair and balanced” propaganda disguised as news that is underwritten by corporations to support their economic interests.

    I do take issue with you about your view of Edward’s tax policies. Ultimately you’ll get a version of the same change in tax rates on big money no matter which democratic candidate would win the election. The current administration’s tax reducation on the very wealthy has reduced their tax burden too to less than what is fair and needed to pay for government expenses. The tax treatment of the income of hedge fund managers comes to mind.

    Let’s not steal from either the rich or the poor, but tax enough to pay for the government we want. In my opinion that’s not class warfare even if it means tax increases on those who earn over two hundred thousand dollars annually. By the way, I’m goring my own ox here. Class warfare cuts both ways.

    All I was initially asking of you, were your ideas on the money as a surrogate for free speech. Thank you for helping me understand your positon in your second response. I agree that the the money in politics issue is complex, but it needs to be addressed better than it currently has been.

    On another issue, I’ve read your most recent post about health care. Well said!

  6. 6
    Ron Chusid says:

    Yes, I intended to write you weren’t applying fascist to me.

    I don’t see anywhere where I have misstated your beliefs. You are the one who used the word fascist.

    Yes, it is possible for advocacy ads to misrepresent things. People also lie. That does not mean we abandon the principle of freedom of speech. We also have Fox News putting out propaganda disguised as news, but that is also protected as free speech. Freedom means that other people will be free to do things we disapprove of.

    Edwards promises far more than any other Democratic candidate and would need to tax far more. This includes his requirements for business to provide various items, which basically are another tax, some of which gets passed on to consumers. There’s a difference between repealing Bush’s tax breaks on the wealthy and what Edwards proposes.

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