Hello? McFly?

22 01 2010

Stick with me here, this is going to be kind of long.

So a few important provisions of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (McCain-Feingold) were overturned in a 5-4 ruling by the Supreme court yesterday.  I wrote about the Supreme Court case and its implications in the Michigan Review last year, before the outcome was clear, and I have to say I’m pleased that the First Amendment has been strengthened, or rather, upheld.

But apparently a lot of people aren’t.

While most conservative/libertarian groups and blogs seem to agree with the ruling, which would allow individuals and corporations (and non-profits and unions and so on and so forth) to more easily create and disseminate campaign material, many individuals, ranging from the left to the populist right, are pretty agitated.

They feel that big corporations/unions/interest groups with a lot of disposable cash can “buy” elections, crushing the voice of the “little guy” or the “pure candidate with integrity” who refuses to “sell out,” to use a few of the phrases I’ve seen bandied about across the comments sections of other blogs that people actually read.  Some are practically hysterical: this is, somehow, the “end of democracy in America.”

I don’t really want to get into that issue particularly (it’s broken down pretty well here, for example) except to ask: how is any of that different from the status quo?  Do you have any idea how much a broad spectrum interest groups spent on the last election, even with McCain-Feingold fully in effect?  At least now the union/greedy corporatist pig cash won’t be funneled through countless PACs and other shell groups.  Chill out, people.  It’s not that tough to buy a candidate these days, and if anything, this will make said purchase more readily apparent.

The other thing I’ve noticed is that such accusations seem to implicitly hold the entire American electorate in contempt.  We’re all too stupid to notice when a candidate becomes a shill for a big corporation or interest group, if their narrative holds, and corporate entities spending more on a candidate will automatically lead to that candidate winning the election.  That “the voters are stupid” mentality really bugs me, even if the voters really are stupid—that’s a problem with democracy itself, and not one that can be remedied with dumb, unconstitutional legislation.

My main issue, though, is that everyone arguing against this ruling on the basis that we will become some kind of fascist-corporatist state (as if it would take corporations buying candidates to accomplish that…) is missing a broader point.

It’s like we’re on the Titanic after it hit the iceberg, and everone around me is complaining that the deck furniture is in dissarray instead of trying to disguise themselves as women to sneak on to lifeboats.  Well, something like that, at least.

Yes, candidates will probably look out for the best interest of a group that consistiently provides direct or indirect support every campaign season.  If the agricultural lobby supports elected officials, we can pretty predictably expect some protections for the agricultural industry.  If unions help get a president elected by dumping tens of millions of dollars into his campaign effort, we can expect idiotic proposals like Card Check and bailouts of two major auto companies.  I’m not sure why this is a surprise, or what exactly McCain-Feingold did to stop this.

What is a surprise, or at least what makes me want to reach through my computer screen and strangle the ignorant, is that many of those who supported McCain Feingold—particularly those on the left—are the same people who want to give the government even more power than it already has.

The pattern I’ve noticed is something like this:

1.  Grant government the power to meddle in the affairs of interest groups (e.g., business sectors, members of the NRA, etc.)

2.  Bitch and moan when these interest groups actively work to elect candidates that will use this newly-granted power to their advantage

3.  Try to remedy this totally predictable problem with idiotic legislation

I could actually go on until step 28, which involves everyone being shipped off to Siberia, but steps 1-3 are the relevant ones (for now at least).

You’ll notice that the catalyst for this chain of unnecessary stupidity is granting the government more power to control the lives or livelihoods of citizens.  The eventual “solution” involves eroding the rule of law, the bedrock of civil society, in an ill-fated attempt to address the unintended consequences of granting the government more power.

Here’s an example of how things should work.

1.  You are an executive of the American Abe Vigoda Action Figure Manufacturer’s Association (AAVAFMA), and you want to get some sweet, sweet subsidies or tariffs or something.

2.  You contribute some tremendous amount of money  to some political campaign, hoping that your chosen Senator will think kindly of your contribution and pass some AAVAFMA-friendly legislation.

3.  “Your” Senator thanks you for your contribution but regrets to inform you that since the federal government has no power to legislate favors for certain industries, a Christmas card and solicitation for future contributions is all you will be getting.

4.  AAVAFMA realizes that perhaps it should try to succeed by actually marketing their irrelevant product instead of using government as a competitive tool.

Passing populist, feel-good crap like McCain-Feingold is a great way to feel like you’re dealing with the consequences of your own governmental overreach: namely, creating a situation where “buying” candidates means something from a competitive standpoint.

Instead, I have a better solution that would sort this type of thing out and prevent it from ever becoming an issue in the future.  It will be tough to implement, but worth it, both for ourselves and our posterity:

We’ll set down some basic and clearly defined ground rules for the federal government in a binding document that states everything that the government can do—not what it’s citizens cannot do.  We could call this document the Charter, or the Fundamental Principles, or, I dunno, the Resolution.

Any laws passed at a federal level which assume power not expressly granted to the government could be deemed unresolutional and would thus be null and void.  This would include corporate welfare, subsidies, and stupid campaign finance reform laws.

I know this system of negative government power seems crazy, but I’m pretty sure that if we could just come up with some kind of brilliant document that would sort all of this out, we’d never have to trouble ourselves with such trifles as “bought candidates” ever again.

I guess I’m just a hopeless idealist though.



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