Paul Waldman wrote an interesting article over at The Plum Line, The Maximum Freedom of the Rich to Influence Elections. It follows off of Harry Reid’s recent idea that we need to have a constitutional amendment
to reverse the Supreme Court’s recent “money is speech” rulings. From my perspective, this is far too little, far too late. But that doesn’t mean that conservatives aren’t freaking out at the thought of it.
Mitch McConnell’s spokesperson Don Stewart started tweeting out rubbish like, “Sen. Reid on the floor now calling for an amendment to the Constitution to restrict the First Amendment.” Given the assumptions, you really can’t argue with this. It’s just that the assumptions are all wrong. Imagine a city council meeting where everyone got to speak, but the only person anyone could hear was the one with the loudest voice. Would that be democracy? That’s what the “money is speech” argument is.
Lately, I’ve been thinking of the fundamental libertarian principle (which is also the basis of conservatism more generally): government is the only entity that can limit your freedom because it is the only entity with the legal right to put you in jail or kill you. But that isn’t even true in the most basic way. I can think of three rich people who seem to have gotten away with murder: OJ Simpson, Phil Spector, and Robert Blake. And they all did it because we live in an Animal Farm country where everyone is equal but some are more equal than others.
There is no greater risk to the liberty of all Americans than granting the right of a tiny fraction of Americans to spend as much money as they like on presidential campaigns. I’m certainly willing to yield Stewart’s point: limiting campaign contributions would indeed decrease one kind of freedom in this country. But it would be far offset by the increase in the liberty of everyone to make their own unmolested political decisions. But Stewart’s argument is typical of libertarian argumentation: there are no competing interests. This is just an excuse to keep the status quo and to avoid increasing the total liberty of the nation. This is why, when you get right down to it, libertarianism becomes nothing but a system designed to remove all limits from the rich at the expense of the poor. Such a system would be even worse than communism under Stalin.
But I’m not too keen on many of the ideas out there for dealing with money in politics. Reid’s idea, as I said, is tepid stuff—even if it makes conservatives apoplectic. And I’m not too interested in Waldman’s pet idea of making all donations go into a blind pool were candidates didn’t know who gave to them. The problem, I think, is that this would work great for the super donors like the Kochs and Sheldon Adelson, because it isn’t just anyone who can give $100 million to a political candidate. There are other ideas—many others. Political scientists are really smart people. Personally, I would like to see strict limits to campaign lengths, but I don’t think that would be enough.
Regardless, I am behind any proposal that makes things better. Because what we have now is basically an oligarchy. And it is only getting worse.