McConnell to Newsmax: Obama Poses Greatest Threat to Free Speech in ‘Modern Times’

Thursday, 14 Jun 2012 09:16 PM

By Paul Scicchitano and Kathleen Walter

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell charged in an exclusive interview with Newsmax Thursday that President Obama poses the greatest threat to the First Amendment in “modern times” and branded his administration “astonishingly left wing.”

McConnell also accused President Obama’s re-election campaign of engaging in tactics eerily “reminiscent” of the Nixon administration’s so-called “enemies list” during the 1970s.

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McConnell was flabbergasted by remarks made by David Axelrod, the president’s senior campaign adviser, who told an audience in New York on Wednesday that Obama would “use whatever tools out there, including a constitutional amendment” to turn back the Supreme Court ruling that opened the way for super PACs to play a prominent role in elections.

“This has never been done before — in 235 years — to make it possible for the government to control political speech in this country — a truly radical, astonishing thing to say out loud even if you believed it,” said the top Republican in the Senate, who participated in a legal challenge that helped make super PACs possible.

“America was built on free speech — the most important part of the Bill of Rights — and so we need to defend speech we don’t like. And we certainly want to fight against those who are trying to shut us up,” McConnell insisted.

“America has many problems, but too much speech is not one of them — too vigorous speech is not one of them. And we don’t need the government — which is trying to control almost every aspect of our lives now — also telling us what we can and cannot say.”

The longest serving U.S. senator in Kentucky’s history has been dubbed the “Darth Vader of campaign finance reform” for his sometimes unpopular stand on campaign finance. It’s an image that he relishes based on a belief that all voices need to be heard in the political arena. McConnell is expected to reiterate his stand in a planned speech on Friday at the American Enterprise Institute.

He accused the Obama administration of using government agencies like the Federal Election Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Internal Revenue Service to “embarrass” and “silence” its critics.

“In other words, they’re using the power of the government to try to shut people up. It’s reminiscent of the Nixon administration,” said McConnell, who couldn’t recall any other administration that had floated the idea of a constitutional amendment as in the case of Axelrod.

“Certainly in modern times,” he asserted. “I can’t recall anybody before just coming right out and saying we need to amend the First Amendment. Now they may have wanted to get around it in some way, but these people are just saying forthrightly ‘we’re going to change the Constitution.’ The most important amendment to the Constitution is the First Amendment. And free speech is right at the beginning.”

Despite widespread criticism of the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision — based largely on a presumption that Americans do not forfeit their First Amendment rights when they come together in corporate entities or labor unions to speak collectively — McConnell insisted that he is “absolutely” pleased with the role that super PACs are playing in the 2012 presidential contest.

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“I think it is really, really important now that it’s possible for all points of view in the marketplace of ideas to be expressed,” said McConnell, who was first elected to the Senate in 1984. “The left for many years has tried to sort of micromanage speech — say that ‘you get to speak because you’re on my side. But you don’t get to speak because you’re against what I’m doing.’”

The senator said he is “proud of the decision in Citizens United” and added that “I hope I played a role by filing an Amicus brief in that case.”

A senior member of the Appropriations, Agriculture and Rules Committees of the upper chamber, McConnell also hoped that Senate Democrats would not succeed in passing a so-called Disclose Act, which would require corporations, unions and nonprofit groups to disclose their top donors if they participate in political activity, and to agree to other disclosures related to expenditures prior to elections.

He said such a law would be another way of undermining the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United.

“What the left is saying — okay the Supreme Court won’t allow us to prevent them from speaking, but why don’t we try to make sure everybody knows who’s contributing to those groups — and then we’ll harass them, and intimidate them, and try to quiet them, shut them up, sort of like a Nixonian enemies’ list. And some of it has already happened.”

McConnell accused President Obama of helping to “go after an individual who contributed to one of the groups supporting Gov. Romney.”

Similar efforts are being waged through various government agencies, he said.

“So their idea here is ‘well if we can’t shut them up, then let’s embarrass them off the playing field. Let’s intimidate them. Let’s scare them. Let’s bring the force of government down on them and intimidate them so that they’re afraid to take us on.’ This is not appropriate behavior in America. And this needs to be stood up to.”

Despite President Obama’s best efforts to walk back his claim a week ago that the private sector was “doing fine,” McConnell said there’s no escaping the rising unemployment rate and increasing signs of a weakening economy.

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“I haven’t seen him since he said that, but I would say ‘Mr. President, the private sector is not doing just fine,” countered McConnell. “No amount of walk back from that later conceals that that’s really what he thinks. He really thinks the way out of this economic trough that we’re in — produced by all this spending, all this debt, all this over regulation and threatened taxation at the end of the year on top of it — he really thinks the way out of that is another stimulus.”

McConnell disagreed. In contrast to the private sector, which Obama has done little to help, public workers are enjoying a low 4.2 percent unemployment rate.

“We don’t have a public-sector unemployment problem. We have a private-sector unemployment problem,” he emphasized, adding that the president would support an additional stimulus for the public sector.

“There’s an old country saying in Kentucky that I always like to use,” explained McConnell. “There’s no education in the second kick of a mule. We’ve already done that. We don’t need to do it again. And the president’s prescriptions are all entirely public sector oriented. That isn’t the way to get us out of the position that we’re in.”


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