Famous Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black once stated, “I am for the First Amendment from the first word to the last. I believe it means what it says.” In part, what it says is that, “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech.” To prove how serious the authors of the Bill of Rights were about this indispensible freedom, they gave Americans the ability to defend the right by force if necessary in the very next Amendment. Even given the historic support from the High Court for the First Amendment and the means to defend it given by the Founders, this past week the Obama Administration violated its oath to uphold the Constitution by issuing a decree abridging the First Amendment right to speech.
In a memo to private health insurers from a senior official at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) the Obama Administration issued a decree ordering them to stop informing Medicare beneficiaries that health reform legislation before Congress could hurt them and curtail their benefits if enacted. The memo went on to say that the government might take legal action against insurers that are mobilizing opposition to the legislation by sending “misleading and confusing” messages to seniors.
Say what you will about insurance companies, this is by no means a defense of them. It is instead a rebuke of an administration that is playing fast and loose with basic rights guaranteed to all Americans, including corporations. In the United States, corporations are separate legal entities that retain the same rights as individuals. Humana, the company whose letters to clients prompted the decree from HHS, has as much right to speak out for or against federal legislation as I do. Congress, the President, and the Supreme Court have no power to abridge Humana’s right to free speech. Obama should know this given that he is a constitutional lawyer.
Secondly, the decree smacks of fascism. Corporations do not exist in America to serve the interests of the state. Obama has this collectivist mindset, a lot like the previous administration, “you are for us or against us.” Any discord with the Administration’s positions and you may find yourself threatened with legal action. Perhaps the President is confused. Maybe he has let his takeover and running of GM, Chrysler, and AIG cloud his vision and he now thinks that he can dictate the terms of existence for all American companies. Unfortunately, few members of his own party have expressed any discomfort with the decree. In fact, Democratic Senator Max Baucus has urged HHS to crack down on the mailings. In addition to a government that is not listening to the people, now we have one that is also attempting to stifle the peoples’ dissent.
Of course, attempting to litigate any company that disobeyed the gag order would end in defeat for the Administration. There is no precedence for restricting speech against government legislation. Even inaccurate or misleading speech is protected. But, to top it all off, the information Humana peddled to seniors was actually accurate. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the bill released last week in the Senate by Baucus would cut payments to Medicare Advantage plans by about $139 billion over 10 years. Certainly this represents a significant chunk of change and would result in reduced benefits for seniors. If the Humana information was misleading, at least Obama could look like he was standing against deceit and chicanery. This would be somewhat admirable. But because the information is true, he simply looks like a despot.
In 1906, Evelyn Beatrice Hall said, “I may disapprove of what you say, but I defend to the death your right to say it.” Taking the presidential oath of office to defend the Constitution is equivalent to Hall’s statement. But, with the current president, he apparently has no problem not only shirking his duty but violating it. It’s no wonder his approval rating continues to drop and Americans are taking to the streets in the millions to protest his policies. After all, Americans are not asking Obama to give his life for free speech just to respect it even when it disagrees with his policies.