Political News

Speech or silence: Which serves democracy best on Election Day?

Posted December 11, 2019 10:50 p.m. EST

— If today were Election Day in the US, rival candidates would be blasting out hours-long TV and radio blitzes to drive every last vote to the polls in key battlegrounds. But this Thursday, after the most bitter election campaign in decades, a spectral silence will cloak the British isles -- at least until 10 p.m., when voting ends.

Britain imposes an election day broadcasting blackout on political coverage that might influence voters. Such regulations seem archaic in a social media age, but the UK is not alone: In Australia, political advertising is banned for several days before the polls open. There's no campaigning once voting starts in the Philippines. And in Canada, journalists must not broadcast or print details about opinion polls on election day.

As if to compensate, British newspapers -- exempt from such rules -- typically pack front pages with partisan content on election morning. In 1992, for instance, The Sun splashed on a mock-up of the Labour leader's head inside a light bulb alongside the headline: "If Kinnock wins today will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights?" Two days later, after a shock Conservative win, Rupert Murdoch's tabloid crowed, "It was the Sun Wot Won it."

No such restrictions would fly in the US, where constitutional free speech guarantees take precedent. The extent of US restrictions involve a ban on electioneering within 100 feet of a polling facility, enshrined in a 1992 Supreme Court decision.

So which approach best serves democracy?

Gagging politicians on the most important day of a campaign does seem Big Brotherish. Still, if they haven't closed the deal with voters by election day, they probably never will. And perhaps voters could use a few precious hours of peace to make up their minds.

Just doing a job

In a rare corner in Washington, facts and evidence still matter and party rivals still put the national interest above grubby political goals.

A House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on Wednesday could not have contrasted more with the posturing that swamps televised impeachment hearings. Its members are doing important work, revealing a stunning story of safety lapses at Boeing involving the 737 Max and a cozy regulatory clinch with the Federal Aviation Administration.

The committee has uncovered a document that shows the FAA knew that the ill-fated 737 Max had a significantly higher crash risk than other aircraft. It knew this after the Lion Air crash in Indonesia last year -- but it didn't ground the 737 Max until after a second disaster in Ethiopia.

The committee heard from whistleblowers who warned of cut corners and mistakes inside the 737 Max program. Stephen Dickson, the FAA administrator, who took office after the analysis and grounding decisions had been made, defended the agency's decision-making as "data driven" -- but also promised not to clear the jet for flight again until he had flown it himself.

Congress gets a bad rap, often deservedly so. But here it was doing its job, honoring the 346 victims of the two crashes and their families who show up to Capitol Hill hearings. This probe is about more than getting the controversial jet back in the air after a crisis that has hammered Boeing's market valuation and humbled its prestige as an American corporate icon. It could save lives and reassure millions of passengers who clamber aboard Boeing planes worldwide.

Q&A on the EO

Trump has signed an executive order to include discrimination against Jews as a violation of law in certain cases, with an eye toward fighting anti-Semitism on college campuses. The order would allow Trump to take further steps to combat anti-Israel sentiments and divestment movements on college campuses by requiring federally-funded colleges and universities to treat those movements as discriminatory.

Meanwhile asked CNN Religion Editor Daniel Burke to weigh in:

Why is the President doing this right now, and can it be an effective tool against anti-Semitism?

For years, American Jews, particularly conservatives, have raised red flags about growing anti-Semitism on college campuses and pushed Congress to amend civil rights laws to address it. Congress balked, largely because of free speech concerns, and now President Trump has stepped in. Groups like the Anti-Defamation League say this measure will help protect Jews; others say it conflates criticism of Israeli policies with anti-Semitism.

Is it a fair criticism that this move could chill free speech?

Trump's Education Department has made a series of moves that seem designed to warn college professors and universities that the feds are watching what they say -- particularly about Israel -- and real dollars are on the line. It's hard to imagine that wouldn't have some effect on scholars' and admins' behavior, particularly with regard to the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions movement, which is explicitly about criticizing Israel.

The President has taken a number of pro-Israel moves in recent years which have been seen as a play to evangelical voters in his base. Would it be cynical to see this move as a continuation of this trend?

To be honest, this wasn't an issue on many evangelicals' political radar. It seems more likely that this is directed toward American Jews. We've seen this repeatedly with Trump's actions on Israel, from moving the US embassy to Jerusalem to the recent reversal of US policy on Israeli settlements. Conservatives applaud; liberals don't. The result is: While most American Jews are solidly Democratic, Trump has managed to widen the wedge between conservative Jews and the Democratic party, which I suspect is not an accident.

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