Monday, September 06, 2004

Comedy and Columns: The Secret Is TIMING!

This week's column explains what happened to last week's column. We were in St. Louis, helping America's Favorite College Freshman™ move into her dorm at Washington University and I filed my column by email while out of town. I therefore didn't know that just that morning, the editor had finally broken his silence on Bush's latest flip-flop on campaign finance reform. So the column, ripping him [a new one] for giving Bush a pass, got killed. But he got enough [like, everything] wrong in the editorial that I could revise and extend my remarks for publication yesterday. I was short for time this week anyway, because I spent much of two days after my return as a witness in the pension funds-Wells Fargo litigation; yes, more on the Mercado, on which project I first started working when our daughter was 1 year old, and last weekend we took her to college. It's not Dickensian, but it's close.

For those of you really, really into campaign finance and the 527 soft vs. hard money distinction, as Mark Schmitt noted, the idea that Democrats were going to be entirely dependent on soft-money 527 organizations dates from back in February, when political insiders thought that the Democratic nominee would have participated in the public financing system for the primaries, and would have no money between March and the Democratic convention. That, of course, didn't happen; Kerry (and Dean) opted out of the system for the primaries, and Kerry set records for Democratic fundraising and had plenty of money right through the convention. (Instead, the problem became that he was getting the public funding too soon compared to when Bush switched from opt-out to opt-in funding after the Republican Convention, which nobody really expected to be the issue back in February.) But the press is fixated that the Democrats need soft-money 527s even though that really didn't turn out to be true (and the R's have more than their share of 527s and 501(c)(4) and (6) organizations.) Note: If you don't know what those numbers mean, you're better off not knowing.

ON CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM, BUSH IS THE FLIP-FLOPPER
East Valley Tribune, Sep. 5, 2004

The Tribune finally criticized President Bush’s call to expand campaign finance reform, which the Tribune considers restricting political speech. You may recall that when both Sens. John McCain and John Kerry called on Bush to denounce the Swift Boat ads -- in which the Kerry opponents’ every factual assertion is contradicted by all available documentation, including their own prior statements and medal citations -- Bush painstakingly avoided any direct criticism. Instead, he called for more regulation of political speech, usually anathema hereabouts.

The Tribune’s silence astounded me, so I submitted a furious column ripping the editorial page (and its editor) on the very day, unfortunately for me, that The Tribune finally criticized restricting so-called 527 groups. I’d be totally humiliated, except that the editorial got approximately every fact wrong.

In the Tribune's view, both George Bush and John Kerry propose further restrictions on political speech. That’s incorrect -- for both men.

According to the Tribune, President Bush says “[k]eeping those [Swift Boat] ads off the air is fine with him as long as all 527 groups quit trying to influence the thinking of voters.” But that’s not what Bush wants.

Bush isn’t proposing banning 527s, despite saying so more times than you can count. What he really (and sneakily) proposes is restricting 527s from using “soft money” large contributions; his planned lawsuit with Sen. McCain will allow 527s to run ads, as long as they do it with “hard money” smaller contributions.

Thus, despite asking for a radical reform, Bush really wants to change only the financing rules, hoping to benefit Republicans and hurt Democrats. He’s saying one thing, but doing another -- yet again.

Next, the Tribune wrote that Kerry wants to “[k]ill the ads from the veterans critical of his Vietnam record,” while allowing other anti-Bush ads to remain. This statement is true, in the sense that any candidate would love a world where the only ads anyone sees support him and oppose his opponent. But while Kerry may dream of “killing” anti-Kerry ads, Kerry (unlike Bush) has never said that 527 ads, even those against him, should be made illegal.

Kerry demanded Bush say that the Swift Boat ads were out-of-bounds, not that they were or should be banned. Kerry was complaining about the truth and propriety of the ads, which is itself political speech. Claiming that Kerry wants to restrict speech is putting words in his mouth, something Republicans do perfectly well without the Tribune’s assistance.

Finally, after getting both Bush’s and Kerry’s positions wrong, the Tribune then offered a similarly unique theory of Supreme Court jurisprudence. According to The Tribune, the McCain-Feingold law, “like previous campaign finance laws, violates the Constitution’s stricture about Congress writing any law -- any whatsoever -- that infringes on free speech.” This, like so many absolutist statements, is also wrong. First, many perfectly constitutional laws “infringe” on “free speech.” There’s libel, obscenity, and disclosing military secrets, for starters.

Second, the U.S. Supreme Court, to the surprise of all concerned, upheld the constitutionality of virtually all of McCain-Feingold. Maybe they were having a bad day, but many Americans also believe that the Court was having a bad day when deciding Bush v. Gore, and you’ve told us to accept it and move on. Respect for law, finality, blah blah blah. Don’t complain too much about the Supreme Court getting it wrong. Some of us might start thinking that the guy who gets the most votes should be president.

In the Tribune’s “plague on both houses” worldview, both Kerry and Bush get equal blame for McCain-Feingold; Bush signed it, while Kerry co-sponsored and voted for it. But Kerry, unlike Bush, hasn’t flip-flopped on this issue multiple times (Bush opposes! Bush signs the bill, but says it goes too far! He now says he thought it went farther! He now wants more regulation!) Bush isn’t just a flip-flopper; he’s now worse than Kerry on one of the Tribune’s key issues.

But if they’re both equally blameworthy, then criticism of Kerry’s legislative achievements now rings pretty hollow. If Kerry’s just as responsible as Bush for landmark campaign finance reform legislation, then that alone is a pretty impressive legislative record.

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