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The Post You, the American People, Demanded

March 22nd, 2005 · 4 Comments

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?

Tags: Horse Race Politics



4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Kapt. Kapital // Mar 22, 2005 at 12:10 pm

    One more contradiction for you … It was post-nixon campaign finance reform that created the Think Tank boom that has thus allowed the right to win the “battle of ideas” (one of which is the idea that such legislation should never have been introduced in the first place).

  • 2 Lane // Mar 22, 2005 at 4:42 pm

    Huh huh. You said scrotal leeching.

  • 3 Anon // Mar 22, 2005 at 6:05 pm

    Would you care to elaborate on your contention?

    After all, 501(c)3 status has been around for a long time–or longer than the 70s, anyway. Isn’t that the sine qua non of the “think tank boom?”

  • 4 Brian // Mar 25, 2005 at 12:23 pm

    It makes me all warm and fuzzy to watch the tide of anti-Campaign Finance Reform sentiment, especially since you fine folks at Reason (and the libertarians) said this would happen from the very start.

    There is a bit of hypocrisy though — no one was opposed to reform until it started “reforming” their speech/money. And the libertarian party (whatever their other failings) were dead set in opposition to it on free speech grounds way back in the 90’s, despite ostensibly being the benefactors of “restricting big money in politics.”

    Hopefully this additional hypocrisy will lead to a dismantling of McCain-Feingold. Must… resist… cynicism!