This week the Roberts Court doubled down on its arguments that political contributions are simply a form of free expression and they neither distort the electoral process nor exert a corrupting influence on our elected officials.
This week Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal filed a lawsuit against the progressive group MoveOn.org because it has paid for billboards around Louisiana that criticize his ideologically driven decision to deny expanded Medicaid coverage to a quarter million of the working poor of the state. Indeed, the billboards have been very effective because they have used his administration’s new tourism slogan to drive home the point that his concern for the welfare of the people of his state is as facilely and transparently self-serving as a pitch to tourists.
Here is the MoveOn.org billboard:
Jindal’s administration is arguing that the slogan “Pick your passion!” has been trademarked by the state and that MoveOn.org is, in effect, undermining the state’s tourism campaign by misappropriating the slogan for partisan political purposes.
Here is the graphic that the state presented when it announced the new slogan:
So the state is correct in its assertion that the MoveOn.org billboard copies the style and colors of the logo.
But I did a Google image search for the slogan, and the other billboard-style advertisements that I found were the following:
You can see that the MoveOn.org billboard borrows a lot less directly from those actual advertisements in the tourism campaign that feature the slogan.
in any case, MoveOn.org has issued the following statement defending its satiric appropriation of the tourism slogan:
“When a trademark is parodied, it is inherently obvious to the consumer that the trademark owner is not the source of the message, and thus generally no likelihood of confusion can be found.
“And the First Amendment interest underlying that doctrine is particularly strong when the parody is created for the purpose of expressing ideas, not for selling goods or services. That is the situation here.”
Obviously, Jindal is treating the MoveOn.org billboards as an attack on his personal political brand. But his administration’s lawsuit is framing the issue as a trademark infringement. So the state government is, in effect, presenting itself as a corporate entity, and then, if one follows the tortured logic of the rulings of the Roberts Court, just as corporations can be regarded, for legal (and political) purposes, as individual citizens, so, too, state governments can be regarded, for legal (and political) purposes, as individual citizens. This correlation means that the state government is not just defined by the people whom it is supposed to serve, but that the state government is itself the people whom it serves. And so in defending his own political brand, Bobby Jindal can argue that he is defending the people of Louisiana—even as his refusal to participate in the Medicaid expansion puts the health of a quarter million Louisianans at serious risk.
This is bullshit logic brought to you by the ideological proponents of bullshit history and bullshit science.
And it is not simply a coincidence that Jindal’s suit against MoveOn.org echoes the complaints of the administration of Chicago State University that the satirical website Crony State University was impinging on its institutional trademark by using the image of a hedge cut into the letters “CSU,” a hedge that the administration claimed is a campus landmark.
If you re-read the posts that John K. Wilson and I did on that issue (see below), and compare that discussion to the arguments made by those on both sides of this issue, the lameness of Jindal’s case against the billboards should be all the more apparent.
What all of this boils down to is that the Far Right will defend to the death its own right to unmitigated free expression, but it will use every means at its disposal—legal and otherwise—to restrict the free expression of its most effective progressive critics. Understood in this way, the Far Right’s defense of free expression does not so much enshrine free expression as a fundamental and universal political right as it defines free expression as a political privilege and endorses it as a political weapon for the privileged.
“The Hedge Police: Censorship at Chicago State University,” by John K. Wilson: https://academeblog.org/2014/01/09/the-hedge-police-censorship-at-chicago-state-university/
“On Hedges and Logos and Trademark Infringement,” by Martin Kich: https://academeblog.org/2014/01/09/on-hedges-and-logos-and-trademark-infringement/