Instapundit didn’t comment on this essay by Brian Anderson, only to say that he “warns of efforts to crush dissent.” However, I think that he should have said a bit more about this article. It is very long, and covers a lot of ground, but sums up the dangers of campaign finance reform very well, and with McCain-Feingold on the books and more to come due to the Abramoff scandal on the rise we should be thinking hard about this, as more regulation from congress is likely.
In a lengthy argument, Anderson lays out the vast territory that campaign finance and other regulatory moves by congress, and supported for the most part by Supreme Court decisions over the last few decades, have crossed in limiting how Americans can express themselves. So far the majority of this is limitation is monetary contributions and corporate activity, but Anderson wonders where all this is going and what will happen post-Abramoff.
It’s easy to see why liberals have spearheaded the nation’s three-decade experiment with campaign-finance regulation. Seeking to rid politics of “big-money corruption,” election-law reforms obstruct the kinds of political speech—political ads and perhaps now the feisty editorializing of the new media—that escape the filter of the mainstream press and the academy, left-wing fiefdoms still regulation-free. Campaign-finance reform, notes columnist George Will, by steadily expanding “government’s control of the political campaigns that decide who controls government,” advances “liberalism’s program of extending government supervision of life.”
Anderson is attacking Democrats mostly here, but not without laying ground as to why. One half of the essay is about what campaign finance proponents are truly after: government babysitting of political speech and involvement. Pew Charitable Trusts pushed hard getting the media to convince congress (and the public) that there was massive public pressure to reform campaign financing.
“The idea was to create an impression that a mass movement was afoot—that everywhere they looked, in academic institutions, in the business community, in religious groups, in ethnic groups, everywhere, people were talking about reform.”
Fortunately for them, no one noticed that it was all fabricated public desire.
The ultimate pipe dream of the reformers is a rigidly egalitarian society, where government makes sure that every individual’s influence over politics is exactly the same, regardless of his wealth.
Sound familiar? Anderson goes over various acts of congress and court decisions in the past 40 years and regulations of the FEC to outline why he thinks the left is up to full control of political speech.
One of the newest trends resulting from modern technology is the ability to have public journals, blogs, and say whatever you want. Some of these become quite popular and many talk politics. However Democrats have those in their sights as well.
Are the hundreds of political blogs that have sprouted over the last few years—twenty-first-century versions of the Revolutionary era’s political pamphlets—“press,” and thus exempt from FEC regulations? Liberal reform groups like Democracy 21 say no. “We do not believe anyone described as a ‘blogger’ is by definition entitled to the benefit of the press exemption,” they collectively sniffed in a brief to the FEC. “While some bloggers may provide a function very similar to more classical media activities, and thus could reasonably be said to fall within the exemption, others surely do not.” The key test, the groups claimed, should be whether the blogger is performing a “legitimate press function.” But who decides what is legitimate? And what in the Constitution gives him the authority to do so?
Indeed there is precious little in the Constitution that guides the function of the press, other than the part where it is supposedly free to operate without constraint from the government.
Blogs are all about everyday people speaking their mind in a public forum. Should bloggers have to ask permission to speak their mind?
All this massively begs the question: Why should any American need government permission to express himself? Instead of a media exemption, blogger Glenn Reynolds sarcastically commented at a recent conference, maybe we need a “free speech exception, in which you are allowed to say what you want about political candidates without fear of prosecution by the government.”
All this is derived from a string of warped logic telling reform proponents that radio time and web site speech is a “contribution” to a politician or campaign. And how would you value that contribution? No one really knows, but they would like to guess in order to control it. How much is it really worth? Priceless, folks. The ability to speak your mind in a public forum without censor or government control is the whole idea behind this free society that was created 230 years ago.
Anderson talks about radio and the Fairness Doctrine, which was an FCC regulation that stated if you wanted to air a political talk show with a partisan bent, you needed to have another show on as well that promotes another viewpoint.
Economically infeasible, most media outlets just refused to air any talk shows. Perhaps there is a reason that more liberal show are not economically attractive to the media industry. Besides, the number of media outlets, cable, satellite, and the internet today make finding an alternative viewpoint a virtual lock.
But Democrats want to bring back the Fairness doctrine.
Small wonder, then, that House Democrats proposed two bills in 2005 to bring the Fairness Doctrine back—and as a law, rather than a mere agency regulation. New York Democratic representative Louise Slaughter, who introduced the first of the two bills, says that Right-ruled radio is a grave threat to American freedoms, “a waste of good broadcast time, and a waste of our airwaves.” People “may hear whatever they please and whatever they choose,” she tells PBS’s Bill Moyers, in a statement as incoherent as it is illiberal. “And of course they have the right to turn it off. But that’s not good enough either. The fact is that they need the responsibility of the people who are licensed to use our airwaves judiciously and responsibly to call them to account if they don’t.”
In other words, we all don’t know enough to police our own viewing/listening/reading habits to get all the information we need to make informed decisions. Big Brother in the flesh. Anderson also quotes Gore, Kerry and Howard Dean, indicating that this attitude permeates the Democratic party up and down.
What happened to the Democrats? Aren’t “liberals” supposed to be the ones that keep government off our backs and support the freedom of the individual? I try as hard as I must to use the term, “Left” instead of liberal, because you can’t even refer to the prevailing political viewpoints of Democrats as liberal any more.
I think that we, and congress, should be very careful attempting to tread on the rights of individuals while attempting to deal with the Abramoff issue. It’s pretty evident, if you have been paying attention since McCain-Feingold, that lobbying money and campaign contributions are not the real problem in congress. Or, rather, you are not going to be able to stop that form of expression apart from outright suppression from the government. The real problem is how much power and money the government controls.
As government grows, it controls the flow of more and more federal dollars. It regulates and controls the flow of goods and the activities of peoples. The more it does this, the more corrupt individuals can use the government to their advantage. Trying to stop people from trying to influence congresspersons is proof that we haven’t learned anything from the last 100 years of communism and fascist tyranny. The only solution to this is to reduce the power, scope and size of our own government.
Powerline also noted this essay by Thomas West called The Liberal Assault on Freedom of Speech, in which he argues that Americans have less freedom of speech today than it has ever had. Which again is a contradiction, as a “liberal” wouldn’t assault individual freedoms; but I nitpick.