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Change the rules


May 15, 2014

I spent my adolescence in North Carolina, during the storied reign of Dean Smith as basketball coach for the UNC “Tar Heels.” An important part of UNC’s strategy during those years was the “Four Corners Offense.” Having established a lead, four Tar Heel players would stake out the corners of the offensive court and use up as much time as possible just passing the ball back and forth.

Great strategy, as far as winning the game went, but BORING basketball. Fans protested, and so did broadcasters and advertisers. So they changed the rules, and added a shot clock. The logjam was broken, the game speeded up, and UNC still managed to win a few titles anyway.

Game rules are like that. They can be changed, when it’s seen that the existing rules produce undesirable results. Consider the designated-hitter rule in baseball or new tackling restrictions in football; there’s a long list of adjustments and tweaks that have been made in professional and amateur sports over the years. Sometimes these changes have been controversial, but eventually, if the changes are seen as being good for the game, everyone adapts, until the next call for reform comes along, of course.

We also make changes in our political rules from time to time. Senators, for example, were originally selected by state legislatures; it wasn’t till the adoption of the 17th Amendment in 1913 that senators began standing for popular election. There are also the famous (and eventually successful) struggles by women and African-Americans to have their right to vote recognized.

Changing the Constitution is not quite as simple as instituting a requirement for safer headgear, but it’s become clear that something seriously needs to be fixed, and it can only be fixed by a rule change: namely, a Constitutional Amendment.

The problem is how much power corporations now have to influence elections and the legislative process. They can spend nearly unlimited amounts for campaign commercials and lobbying to protect their interests, and the voices of common citizens are slowly but surely being overwhelmed.

How did we get here? A simple but deadly combination of two ideas: the notion of “corporate personhood,” and the notion that spending money is equivalent to “free speech.”

For valid legal reasons, corporations have historically been granted certain rights, such as the ability to own property, but somehow, this practice has gotten stretched to give corporations other rights that are generally regarded as the innate province of “natural-born persons” (that is to say, human beings).