The Lonely Centrist

A place for reasoned debate about the issues of the day.

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Friday, June 29, 2007

Crocodile Tears and Wisconsin Right to Life

People have been after me: When are you going to write something on Wisconsin Right to Life? Well, I'm a busy guy, and I figure most things are already being said in terms of analyzing the decision and predicting its effects.

But I suppose the time has come to add at least a few thoughts (and I apologize in advance for few links and less context than usual - just no time today):

1. Souter's dissent is a stinker. Even many who agree with the holding to seem to think so, from what I can tell. Never known as the Court's intellectual giant, and with little to build on but the equally ad Stevens/O'Connor opinion in McConnell v. FEC, Souter's argument consists of little more than outrage and conclusory statements. Like a Fred Wertheimer press release, Souter argues through adjective, talking, for example, about "fake issue ads," and describing the plaintiff as an organization that has "chosen to serve as a funnel for hundreds of thousands of dollars from other corporations" and demeaning other groups that, "refuse to take advantage of the PAC structure but insist on acting as conduits from the campaign war chests of business corporations." (Refuse to take advantage of the PAC structure? Who knew the government could be so generous? Does this mean the state is not required to allow any speech, so you'd better take advantage of what you are given?)

He refers to "undeniable facts" that testify to the "equally undeniable value" favoring regulation. Of course, many people, including many serious academic studies, deny those facts, and to say that regulation supports an "undeniable value" - which, some 150 words later, he finally identifies as "democratic integrity" - is meaningless. For the First Amendment, and the free speech it aims to protect, is also an "undeniable value," and the fact that campaign finance regulation infringes on it is also an "undeniable fact." Except to Souter and his three colleagues. To them, the documented threats to integrity are "obvious to any voter" (except, apparently, the millions who have opposed McCain-Feingold, joined groups that litigated against it, and voted for politicians who opposed it). (slip opinion at 19-20.) At another point he tells us that "any voter who paid attention would have known that Democratic Senator Feingold supported filibusters..." (at 22. emphasis added). This shows a remarkable ignorance of studies about voter knowledge, which shows that most voters can't even name their representatives. And it also raises an interesting question - if every voter knew that, why would anyone run these ads, regardless of their purpose? Thus, Souter concludes, it is "beyond all reasonable debate" that the ads are subject to regulation. (p. 23).


2. Some parts of the Roberts opinion I liked:
a. His deft dissection of the fraudulent "Buying Time" studies (p. 12-13).
b. The fact that he actually quotes the First Amendment - when was that last done in a Supreme Court decision on campaign finance?
c. "We disagree with the dissent's view that corporations can still speak by changing what they say to avoid mentioning candidates. This argument is akin to telling Cohen that he cannot wear his jacket because he is free to wear one that says, 'I disagree with the draft;' or telling 44 Liquormart that it can advertise so long as it avoids mentioning prices." (slip op. at 23-24, fn. 9). He is referring here to Cohen v. California, upholding the right to wear a "F*** the Draft" jacket, and 44 Liquormart Inc. v. Rhode Island, upholding the right to advertise liquor prices.
d. Skewering the intervenors (Sen. McCain and pals) for their "heads I win, tails you lose" argument. (p. 18, noting their argument that the less an ad actually pertained to an election, the more likely it was to influence voters); and
e. "Enough is enough." (p. 25)

3. Crocodile tears about 5-4 votes. All the academics, from Erwin Chemerinksy to Cass Sunstein, are out bemoaning all the 5-4 decisions this term. "Why," they whine, "Roberts said he wanted to build consensus." Of course, building consensus takes more than one. As noted above, in this case for example, the dissent is little more than petulance and a determination that no compromise is possible. None of these folks whined when McConnell v. FEC went 5-4 in their favor, but then, Justice Stevens never said he cared about gaining consensus - which may explain why this decision was also 5-4! The definition of consensus seems to be this: when Roberts, Alito, Kennedy, Scalia, and Thomas sacrifice their beliefs to agree with the other four. In this case, Roberts and Alito tried to take a narrow view, much to the chagrin of Scalia. Surely Breyer or Souter or someone could have joined the Chief, and tried to write an opinion a bit more to their liking. They chose not to. If Roberts isn't even going to win votes by trying to keep his ruling narrow, he may as well go all out. In the field of campaign finance, at least, that would be a good thing.

4. Crocodile tears about the abuse of precedent. All the folks who sat idly by while the McConnell decision abused precedent are now up in arms. Souter's decision is as good a place as any to go for an example of how they are still willing to abuse precedent, e.g.: "campaign finance reform has... consistently focused on the pervasive distortion of electoral institutions by concentrated wealth..." (slip opinion at 20. Hey, Souter - read Buckley v. Valeo. Hypocrits. It's that simple.

5. Well, we have to go back to the Souter opinion for a bit. You've got to love footnote 18, in which he disses the Pew Trusts/Brennan Center's baby, the Buying Time studies. Why, according to Souter, there is "not a shred of evidence" that the Court relied on them. (slip opinon at 26, n. 18). Guess the folks and Pew and Brennan just lost their bragging rights.

Well, enough. There is much more to do.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

And We Trust These People to Elect a Government

The stock market is setting record highs; only twice since the 1960s has unemployment ended the year lower than May's 4.5% rate; the economy continues to grow; personal income continues to grow; inflation is tame at 2.7% over the last 12 months, but only one-third of Americans rate the economy as "good" and 70% think it getting worse, according to Gallup.

And we trust these people to elect the government. Well, I suppose that's better than the alternative. Or as the great Churchill put it, "democracy is the worst form of Government except all those others that have been tried from time to time."

And these People Are the Front Runners

"I am running for president because I believe if we set big goals and we work together to achieve them, we can restore the American dream today and for the next generation."... "We can give people the education and opportunities they need to fulfill their God-given potentials." ... "The foundation of a strong economy is the investments we make in each other."
- Hillary Clinton

"Folks, we're a bit down politically right now, but I think we're on the comeback trail, and it's going to start right here." ... "It's time to take stock and be honest with ourselves. We're going to have to do a lot of things better." ... "I know we're here for the same reasons: Love of our country and concern for our future."
- Fred Thompson

See this wonderful column from Anne Applebaum for more banal quotes.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Muslims World is Just Like Us

Or at least just like we would be if every time we felt vaguely insulted we launched into rampages of violence and death threats.

Be sure not to miss this quote midway through, from Ijaz-ul-Haq, the Religious Affairs Minister in Pakistan's government, talking about the appropriate reaction to the Knighthood given to Salman Rushie:
“If somebody has to attack by strapping bombs to his body to protect the honour of the Prophet then it is justified,”
He later claimed to have been misunderstood.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Or We Could Vote Candidates Off

Here is a good column from the New Republic about the inanities of what are called presidential "debates."

My mild suggestion, if we have to have these things, would be to at least make each debate on a single topic, and not have questions but let the candidates talk and rebut on the topic. By now, each party could have had one on Iraq; one on Immigration; one on the Economy. A few more could cover Health care; family and values (a broad umbrella for abortion, gay marriage etc.); National Security (somewhat redundant with Iraq but merited); Political and Ethics Reform; etc.

If each candidate got 4 minutes to open and 2 minutes rebuttal, then you'd be at 60 minutes, with 15 minutes for vvery lightly moderated cross exchange, 1 minute each to sum up, and 5 minutes devoted to housekeeping (the inescapable introductions and closing) all in 90 minutes. You'd at least get a bit of exchange and some reasonable time to make a modestly coherent argument. Extend it to two hours would be better. If you want to see what a good, light moderation would look like, review the discussions that were held in the PBS Free to Choose series back in the early 1980s.

Of course, the real fun would be if we did it like American Idol or Survivor, and voted one contestant off the stage each week.

Why the Thompson Boomlet?

George Will asks the question here. Frankly, I don't get it, either.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Silencing the Opposition: Return of the Fairness Doctrine?

Newsweek's Howard Fineman has republished a Democratic Party press release... er, written a fine column on efforts to reinstate the so-called "fairness" doctrine. This is the rule that allows the government to intimidate and limit broadcast opinion in the name of promoting "fairness" over the "public" airwaves.

In the last campaign, there was a great deal of talk in Democratic Party circles about the dangers of "one party rule." To their credit, however, Republicans never had so much gall as to make such a blatantly partisan attack on Democratic media. But as Fineman's column makes clear, this is nothing but a partisan effort to silence opposition. That the three major networks, plus CNN and MSNBC, plus NPR, plus most daily papers lean to the left is not enough - the left must silence talk radio, and Fox News is assuredly not far behind.

Both the Kennedy and Nixon administrations used the fairness doctrine to harass political opponents. As former FCC Chairman James Quello put it, "The fairness doctrine doesn't belong in a country that's dedicated to freedom of the press and freedom of speech." This article is a few years old but in short order demonstrates the perniciousness of the doctrine. A quick excerpt:
As defined by proponents of the doctrine, "fairness" apparently means that each broadcaster must offer air time to anyone with a controversial view. Since it is impossible for every station to be monitored constantly, FCC regulators would arbitrarily determine what "fair access" is, and who is entitled to it, through selective enforcement. This, of course, puts immense power into the hands of federal regulators. ...

...[W]ith the threat of potential FCC retaliation for perceived lack of compliance, most broadcasters would be more reluctant to air their own opinions because it might require them to air alternative perspectives that their audience does not want to hear.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Great Challenge of Our Time

Does it seem that Americans increasingly want to turn their heads away from Islamic radicalism, the greatest threat of our times? Nearly six years after 9/11, the West still seems unsure of how to respond.

This article by Chris Hitchens is must reading. Take special note of what Hitchens reports is being taught in mainstream mosques.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Oprah, Obama and "Undue" Influence

For the first time ever, Oprah Winfrey has endorsed a candidate for political office, Barack Obama. I've got no beef with Oprah or Obama, the former of whom I never watch, the latter of whom seems to be a intriguing new face on the political scene, a vessel into which many hopes and ambitions are being poured. Maybe he is the guy to shake a ridiculously prosperous America from whatever dolldrums have us in such a funk.

But Paul Sherman of the Center for Competitive Politics asks a good question: "Where are the 'reformers' to rescue us from Oprah's undue influence on the political process?"

Sherman writes:
Reformers intent on eliminating private money from politics [have] adopt[ed] an expansive definition of 'corruption.' They have defined the term downward, away from quid pro quo and towards 'influence' and 'access.' But this has painted them into a logical corner, because under this redefinition influential endorsements begin to look more and more like a source of 'corruption.' ...

[A] common reform complaint about monetary contributions was that, at the end of the day, it was the large contributor whose phone calls were being returned. Following this valuable endorsement, is there any chance that Barack Obama won't be returning Oprah's phone calls? What makes her influence more deserving of protection than, say, an unknown professional with money to spend?

This is a good question indeed. Note that if Oprah wanted to contribute $5000 to Obama, it would violate the law. But if she wants to give Obama a million dollars value in TV time and endorsements, that is perfectly legal. Is this a good idea? Says Sherman:
There may be a relatively small percentage of the population that can give $2,300 to a political candidate, but there's only one "most influential woman in the world."

Equality, reform style.

  • The Skeptic
  • Andrew Sullivan
  • Michael Barone
  • The New Republic
  • National Review
  • Democracy Project
  • Bob Bauer
  • Center for Competitive Politics
  • Ryan Sager
  • Going to the Matt
  • Professor Bainbridge
  • Volokh Conspiracy
  • Mystery Pollster
  • Amitai Etzioni
  • Alexander Chrenkoff
  • Middle East Media Research Institute
  • Right Democrat
  • Democrats for Life