Ryan Sager‘s excellent recent articles on the delicious contradictions of the movment behind campaign finance reform are required reading. But for precisely that reason, I’ll figure folks have read them (if not: go ahead, we’ll be here when you get back) and jump off on a tangent.
In this post, Ryan notes that CFR boosters disingenuously created the impression of a mass movement (rather than Pew-manufactured astroturf) for reform, spouting lines like:
* “The majority leader is simply frustrating the will of the Senate and the will of the American people.” — Sen. Russ Feingold, quoted in the May 16, 2001, New York Times (on Trent Lott holding up McCain-Feingold)
* “The American people demand it and good public policy requires it.” — New York Times editorial from March 25, 2001, on campaign-finance reform
* “The answer to Americans’ call for real reform of our campaign finance system is Shays-Meehan.” — Sen. John McCain, in a February 13, 2002, press release
Now, I think Ryan’s general point is spot on, but it’s also pretty clear that however unpopular some legislator’s pet project is, they’re going to justify it in terms of what The People are demanding. If a bill were introduced on the floor of the House tomorrow stipulating that a foot-long remora be attached to each firstborn son’s nutsack, the sponsor would duly rise with enormous gravitas to describe the deep yearning of the American People for scrotal leeching.
That’s understandable enough. We’ve traded vox populi for divine right, and there are few stronger claims one can advance in that context for one’s favored position. It makes sense if read, as Will might have it, as a speech act. And it’s good psychology: If everyone’s convinced that everyone else is in favor of something, often that’ll be just what it takes to make it so.
Still, at some point, doesn’t the presumptuousness of it become sufficiently offensive that it’s a net turnoff? When do we get sick of being told what we already think and start rewarding people who’re willing to say they’ve got a sound argument for their favored policies, and if the rest of us don’t already agree, we should?