January 29, 2006

Shut Up, They Explained

I had meant to link to this great Op-Ed column by author and City Journal Senior Editor Brian C. Anderson a few days ago when it was first published in WSJ’s Opinion Journal, but for the last several days I’ve been swamped with issues involving my new house and a few other things I seem to be getting out of the way –finally!

Mr. Anderson discusses campaign finance reform and how it targets free speech, particularly that of conservatives.

The rise of alternative media–political talk radio in the 1980s, cable news in the ’90s, and the blogosphere in the new millennium–has broken the liberal monopoly over news and opinion outlets. The left understands acutely the implications of this revolution, blaming much of the Democratic Party’s current electoral trouble on the influence of the new media’s vigorous conservative voices. Instead of fighting back with ideas, however, today’s liberals quietly, relentlessly and illiberally are working to smother this flourishing universe of political discourse under a tangle of campaign-finance and media regulations. Their campaign represents the most sustained attack on free political speech in the United States since the 1798 Alien and Sedition Acts. Though Republicans have the most to lose in the short run, all Americans who care about our most fundamental rights and the civic health of our democracy need to understand what’s going on–and resist it.

It came as no surprise when Senator John McCain was behind one of the most offensive “campaign finance” acts in modern history. That aisle straddling, self seeking, in-name-only Republican distinguished gentleman is… No, this time I will avoid my usual flair for digression…

The most imminent danger comes from campaign-finance rules, especially those spawned by the 2002 McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform Act. Republican maverick John McCain’s co-sponsorship aside, the bill passed only because of overwhelming Democratic support. 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.”

Ah, yes, there is that, indeed. George Will hit the nail right on the head with the last, “liberalism’s program of extending government supervision of life.” It beats me how a bunch of folks whose political handle stems from the word “liberty” can be so set on taking away our liberty, that concept-cum-reality earned for us by patriots who fought, died, sacrificed nearly two hundred thirty years ago so that theirs and future generations might live free.

Liberty to go about our lives without the very government control the liberals are attempting to force feed us through Congress and the courts, and are largely succeeding.

McCain-Feingold, the latest and scariest step down that slope, makes it a felony for corporations, nonprofit advocacy groups and labor unions to run ads that criticize–or even name or show–members of Congress within 60 days of a federal election, when such quintessentially political speech might actually persuade voters. It forbids political parties from soliciting or spending “soft money” contributions to publicize the principles and ideas they stand for. Amending the already baffling campaign-finance rules from the 1970s, McCain-Feingold’s dizzying do’s and don’ts, its detailed and onerous reporting requirements of funding sources–which require a dense 300-page book to lay out–have made running for office, contributing to a candidate or cause, or advocating without an attorney at hand unwise and potentially ruinous.

Not for nothing has Justice Clarence Thomas denounced McCain-Feingold’s “unprecedented restrictions” as an “assault on the free exchange of ideas.”

Because political blogs are mostly conservative, reporting and commenting on important news issues that the liberal mainstream media either downplays, spins or ignores and have become a formidable “new media” power all their own, these “reformers” have now cast their jaundiced eye on the blogosphere.

Campaign-finance reform now has the blogosphere in its crosshairs. When the Federal Election Commission wrote specific rules in 2002 to implement McCain-Feingold, it voted 4-2 to exempt the Web. After all, observed the majority of three Republicans and one Democrat (the agency divides its seats evenly between the two parties), Congress didn’t list the Internet among the “public communications”–everything from television to roadside billboards–that the FEC should regulate. Further, “the Internet is virtually a limitless resource, where the speech of one person does not interfere with the speech of anyone else,” reasoned Republican commissioner Michael Toner. “Whereas campaign finance regulation is meant to ensure that money in politics does not corrupt candidates or officeholders, or create the appearance thereof, such rationales cannot plausibly be applied to the Internet, where on-line activists can communicate about politics with millions of people at little or no cost.”

You can’t blame the left for seeing the right thinking bloggers on the Internet as a threat to their previously enjoyed media monopoly…

The FEC thus has plunged into what Smith calls a “bizarre” rule-making process that could shackle the political blogosphere. This would be a particular disaster for the right, which has maintained its early advantage over the left in the blogosphere, despite the emergence of big liberal sites like Daily Kos. Some 157 of the top 250 political blogs express right-leaning views, a recent liberal survey found. Reaching a growing and influential audience–hundreds of thousands of readers weekly (including most journalists) for the top conservative sites–the blogosphere has enabled the right to counter the biases of the liberal media mainstream. Without the blogosphere, Howell Raines would still be the New York Times’ editor, Dan Rather would only now be retiring, garlanded with praise–and John Kerry might be president of the U.S., assuming that CBS News had gotten away with its falsehood about President Bush’s military service that the diligent bloggers at PowerLine, LittleGreenFootballs and other sites swiftly debunked.

…but they can be blamed for trying to replace our American right to freedom of speech with intrusive government regulation.

Read Brian Anderson’e entire commentary here.

by @ 2:35 am. Filed under Great Commentary
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