Essay on Bill of Rights kind of a ‘stumper’ for the Wisconsin State Journal

In its ongoing struggle to justify why it even exists, the editorial page at the Wisconsin State Journal takes up what ought to be a really Important Topic — the Bill of Rights — and then demonstrates they haven’t a serious thought to offer.

Their problem is, they want to have a party

It’s 220 years old today and still kicking — louder and freer than ever.

Happy birthday to the Bill of Rights, and especially to its First Amendment!

This prevents them from noticing that — even as the right to speak and assemble are pepper-sprayed and security-fenced all across the nation — the right to ever louder speech is being guarded and advanced for those with massive financial resources.

The WSJ editorial board will not be gassed or herded into a ‘free-speech’ zone. There certainly will never be a need for that. The Bill of Rights was created to protect American citizens from their government, which, like all governments, would certainly overreach and someday, more than once, need to be checked. Most people, including those owning and operating our newspapers would always be relied upon for cautious timidity if not actual loyalty. That was understood. But a few might be vocal resisters, actually testing the government.  It was this latter group who needed the 1st Amendment.  And by using it, they demonstrate whether it is still really there. Or just how much of it is still there.

Does the State Journal editorial board imagine they are part of that latter group?  Weirdly, possibly, they do, because they continue

Having published a newspaper for 172 years, we have a soft spot for that first one, which mentions the press specifically:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

It’s true, the State Journal editorialized the other day against the new rules and permits and fees to petition the Wisconsin state government at the capitol building.  So, that was nice.

But the general pattern has been silence. For over a decade of editorials, the Journal has been conspicuously silent about warrantless spying, Guantanamo trials, the massive growth and privatization of ‘national security’ functions, the Patriot Act, military commissions, the State Secrets Doctrine, indefinite detentions, and the ever-expanding use of ‘terrorism’ as a justification for unchecked powers to the President.

Having been silent (or unaware?) for over a decade of damage to the Bill of Rights, it does get awkward when the day comes where you want to throw the Bill of Rights a little party.