Mar

31

LectureHop: Democrats, Republicans, and the Citizens United

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The Columbia Political Union hosted another in its series of debates between the Columbia Democrats and Republicans. Senior Junior Political Correspondent Derek Huang was there.

Ah, debate: an experience normally associated with eager high-schoolers who take themselves too seriously. Last night’s debate, though, involved a different type of hyper-argumentative youth. Last night’s debate between the College Democrats and College Republicans featured two moderators–one from each group–and two debaters representing each side. The topic of the debate was the recent and controversial (in most circles, at least) ruling by the Supreme Court in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

In the case, Citizens United, a conservative non-profit organization, challenged the FEC over its right to advertise its political film Hillary: The Movie. The issue itself drew much attention due to the Court’s controversial interpretation of the Constitution: at its core, the case pertained directly to the “freedom of speech” (or lack thereof) granted to corporations. The Supreme Court ruled that corporations and unions would be allowed to fund political ads that support specific candidates, in effect granting corporations the same free-speech laws endowed to citizens. Also notable was how unpopular the ruling was: the College Democrats cited an ABC poll that had 80% of respondents disagreeing with the court ruling, with 70% preferring the legislation that had been repealed. While the ruling may seem unnecessarily broad, both College Democrats and College Republicans were willing to quickly delve into the more nuanced issues behind the debate.

At the core of the Citizens United debate is a disagreement over first, the categorization, and second, the treatment of corporations and their rights. The CU Democrats argued that corporations do not deserve to influence elections, and do not necessarily represent the opinions of shareholders. On the other side, the College Republicans argued that those who are capable of attaining capital (be it through a collective corporation or as an individual) should have the liberty of spending it as they please, even by making ads to support political candidates. Further, the Republicans argued that the Supreme Court ruling is beneficial, as it allows for a greater spread of information and also prevents the government from unduly controlling private media. The Dems, on the other hand, argued that the Constitution only protects individual rights, which do not apply to corporations or unions. Drawing upon the fact that the measures that were repealed by the Court ruling were originally put in place to prevent corruption in the election process, the Democrats argued that corporations would have a disproportionate amount of control in the election process, due, simply, to corporate largesse.

Of course, debate doesn’t have to end in compromise, and it was plain refreshing to discover that, despite the sometimes heated discussion, the College Republicans and College Democrats could engage in both stimulating and friendly discourse about a serious issue. And, despite some mildly hyperbolic statements (most notably a College Dems debater asking when we would see “a presidential election between Coke and Pepsi”), both sides made well-informed, balanced appraisals of the decision.

Ultimately, even though the moderator-posed questions sometimes devolved into squabbles – most notably, a hilariously, intentionally-mistimed and off-topic cry of “DEATH PANELS” thrown to the audience – the debate was a refreshingly clear glimpse at the foundational beliefs of each group. While the “Republicans support big business” and “Democrats only care about big government” clichés are generally over-wrought, each group demonstrated the clear bases from which these generalizations are formulated and, all too often, politicized to the point of self-parody. The debate was both informative and entertaining simply because these groups came prepared to examine the intersections of their principles, and did so admirably.

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6 Comments

  1. what?  

    What do you mean, "controversial?" 85% of Democrats and 76% of Republicans oppose the ruling.

    Even the teabaggers oppose it by between 56 and 73% (depending on who you count as a "teabagger").

    That's less "controversial" than LBJ's landslide win in 1964 (44 states +DC).

    http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/2010/02/black-robed-legislators-on-bench.html

    • Anonymous  

      controversial because a number of legal scholars think that the constitution doesnt allow the law to exist, but a vast majority of the populace doesnt like the implications of the law not existing. I didn't understand obama's attack of the court decision during his state of the union- the court judges constitutionality, not whether or not the law is "good policy"- if you want to amend the constitution go ahead. Guess it shows he favors activist judges...

    • controversial

      Oh, let's see. On the one hand we have public opinion. On the other, the Supreme Court. I'd say there is controversy there. And if it is worth Obama mentioning in his State of the Union, I'd say, case closed, it's controversial. Geez.

  2. Jonathan  

    You can agree or disagree with the Supreme Court decision, but pretending that the conservative majority opinion is anything other than--as "anonymous" would call it--an activist decision is utterly ridiculous. Not only did the decision explicitly overturn precedent that has been on the books since 1990 in a clear slap in the face to the principle of stare decisis, but the ruling invalidates federal law stretching back to 1917 and bans or restrictions on corporate advertising in 23 states. There are plenty of reasonable arguments to justify this decision, which I happen to disagree with, but I urge conservatives to drop the pretense and stop pretending that the conservative majority is composed of a bunch of impartial "umpires" while the liberal minority are a bunch of "activists." All nine Justices are political actors who want to push legal interpretation towards their policy preferences. The Roberts wing of the court happens to get what they want at this point in history.

    • you're  

      totally right. Why is it people talk about "liberal activist" and "conservative preservationists"? There have been both liberal and conservative "activist" decisions, and not all liberal decisions are "activist", and not all activist decisions are liberal.

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