John McCain

Editor's Note: Free expression forever!

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I'm writing this about three weeks before the presidential election, and it's anybody's guess who will win. This much, however, is already clear: Free expression–that most basic of rights–is alive and well in contemporary America. Indeed, those of us who believe in freedom of speech can take pleasure in the nearly complete failure of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which was designed to "get the money out of politics." That is, the Democratic and Republican incumbents who passed it had hoped to make their lives easier by silencing rivals and outside groups.

Yet the agenda for this presidential campaign has in many ways been dictated by much-demonized "527 groups" such as Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and MoveOn. You know that speech restrictions aren't working when their authors' heads explode on national TV. That happened in August on Face the Nation, when Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) declared the Federal Election Commission "corrupt" for allowing the 527s to buy (legally) radio and TV ads.

It's appalling that restrictions on speech exist, but we take our fun where we can find it. Several pieces in this issue explore such fun. Our cover story, "Disney's War Against the Counterculture" (page 20), tells the tale of the Air Pirates, cartoonists who dared to parody Mickey Mouse and friends in the early 1970s. Citing the First Amendment, the Air Pirates fought the law–and lost badly. Yet their defeat ultimately paved the way for a broader understanding of "fair use" in an age when copyright holders work to muzzle any unauthorized use of material.

In "Love and Memory and Humanity" (page 50), performer Penn Jillette recalls that the rapper Eminem recently had a hit song that explicitly told Laura Bush to go screw herself. "There's not a lot of countries that would allow that," Jillette notes. He and his longtime partner, Teller, are taking advantage of the laissez faire world of premium cable, where they appear on the brilliant Showtime series Bullshit! It's pathetic that most newspapers and onscreen cable guides refuse to list the show by its name, but there's something comforting about living in a country where Bullshit! can be seen by a national audience. Even the fine-happy Federal Communications Commission chairman, Michael Powell, concedes to reason that the First Amendment is "an enormous sledgehammer" that will make it "increasingly difficult to argue for content-premised legislation for broadcasters" (see "The Reluctant Planner," page 30).

Then there are the brave souls involved in the Free State Project. They're working to get 20,000 libertarians to move en masse to New Hampshire, with the intention of further minimizing government in the Granite State. "Revolt of the Porcupines!" (page 40) lays out the promises and pitfalls of their program. Whether they succeed or fail, the Free Staters provide an intriguing model of walking the walk when it comes to free expression.