Menckens Ghost
Campaign Signs and the First Amendment  

Of all the insults to our intelligence during campaign season, the worst is the political class trying to make us believe that they have a First Amendment right to clutter street corners and other public places with their ugly campaign signs.

Inevitably, many of the signs are not picked up after the election or are blown into brush along roadsides, where they stay for months as a reminder of how we are treated like patsies, as is the case where I live in metro Tucson.

The Bill of Rights was written to specify the rights of the people, rights that could not be abridged by government.  They do not specify the rights of government or the imagined rights of political incumbents.  Instead, they protect the powerless against the powerful.

The First Amendment specifies the right of the people (and the press) to engage in political speech, to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.  Therefore, if anyone has the right to put political signs on street corners, it is private citizens.

Try it.  Try putting hundreds of signs around the Tucson metropolis on public spaces, saying that the Tucson City Council is corrupt, or the school board for the Tucson Unified School District harms children, or Pima County Manager Chuck Huckleberry is incompetent, or both political parties are in cahoots to screw the little guy—or whatever your grievance might be, right or wrong.  No doubt, you'll be stopped as fast as North Koreans are stopped for expressing their grievances.

Maybe as a test of local government's tolerance for political speech, I'll plaster public places with a sign that has a cartoon image of a top-hatted politician being kicked in the rear, along with this message:  Join Cantoni in giving pols the can, toe and knee.

Of course, citizens have other means to exercise their right of free speech.  They can distribute pamphlets as the Patriots did, or own newspapers as some of the Founders did, or write commentaries for newspapers as the authors of the Federalist Papers did, or make speeches in the public square as people used to do, or put signs on their own property or other people's property with approval, or, with today's new media, post political messages on social media.

Politicians have the same options.  Not only that, but it's easier for incumbents than private citizens to get their views disseminated, due to the free media coverage they receive and the money they get from special interests.  Political insiders, least of all, need to plaster their names all over the city like crazed graffiti artists with an unlimited supply of spray paint.