Beware of Reform
March 22, 2001
of liberty are instinctively and rightly suspicious of
the word reform. In our time it usually means an increase in the
power of the political over the private.
So it is with campaign finance
reform, by which the megastate the federal government
would limit the right of opposition to the state. Advocates of this
supposed reform, led by Senator John McCain of Arizona, argue that money
plays too large a part in our elections. So it does. But the money the
reformers want to restrict is private money, as distinct from
the money spent by the government itself.
Individual donations to candidates are
already limited to $1000, while the government the incumbents
spends trillions of dollars, most of them for the purpose of making
voters dependent on the state. Now the incumbents want to increase their
natural advantages over challengers by cracking down on soft
money and political advertising.
Not only is this an abridgement of
the freedom of speech [and] of the press, which the First
Amendment plainly forbids Congress to enact; its also a sinister
attack on the basic republican principle that citizens must be free to oppose,
and replace, those who hold power over them. The rulers are trying to set
new and difficult hurdles for the ruled. They want the monstrosity of
government-controlled opposition which amounts to no opposition.
In our system, the real fat
cats are not challengers, however well-funded, but incumbents. They
enjoy numberless perks of office: free publicity, access to public money, the
ability to distribute pork and other favors, the franking privilege, potent
connections, and of course a natural attraction for lobbyists. And these are
only the legal advantages. Bill Clinton has shown us how they may be
Nevertheless, these fat cats feel
victimized. They feel the system is rigged against them as long as it permits
challengers to use private money as an equalizing factor. So they naturally
want to reform that factor out of the picture.
Life is so unfair to incumbents.
Remember how Bob Dole cried Foul! in 1996 when Steve
Forbes used his personal fortune to publicize Doles long voting
record? Though that record was available to anyone who cared to look, Dole
felt that it was between him and his Maker, and he was outraged that Forbes
would be low enough to spend money to broadcast it to the voters.
The news media, natural allies of
incumbents, joined Dole in decrying Forbess negative
campaigning. Clearly, if ever a situation called for
reform defined as protecting the interests of those
already in power this one did. Freedom to oppose the powers that be
is fine, as long as it doesnt get out of control. Thats where
campaign finance reform comes in.
Apart from the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery,
we owe none of our basic freedoms to the U.S. Government. Those freedoms
date from earlier times; some derive from Anglo-Saxon law, and many were
incorporated into the U.S. Constitution. But since then, over more than two
centuries, the federal government has been gradually constricting our
freedoms. If they hadnt existed already, they would never have
originated with our rulers.
Would Abraham Lincoln, venerated as
the Great Emancipator, have created the right of habeas corpus? He violated
it shamelessly. Would he have created the rights of political opposition or of
free speech and free press? He arbitrarily arrested thousands of dissenters
and shut down hundreds of newspapers. He also arrested state legislators
and congressmen, and even issued an order for the arrest of the Chief
Justice of the United States, whose only crime was ruling that
Lincoln had acted illegally.
Later presidents, abetted by Congress,
begot the mammoth welfare-warfare state, in defiance of the Constitution,
and imposed taxes and regulations that would have made the federal
government unrecognizable to the Framers. Which of our freedoms do we
owe to Franklin Roosevelt, who, among many other crimes, incarcerated all
citizens of Japanese descent?
Even the honorable term civil
rights has been perverted to mean the states power to abridge
freedom of association. It now represents less liberty, not more; more
government, not less.
Many of our freedoms have been
strangled in the name of reform. John McCain belongs to a
sorry American tradition.
Archive Table of Contents
Return to the