the campaign finance law we have sucks only a little more than the alternative
Two separate but important points: one, the law in question is lousy and patently unconstitutional; two, this video is incomplete, and perhaps damningly so.
Why? Because it ignores why campaign finance reform can seem so promising and so necessary: corporations and other moneyed interests pour millions of dollars into campaign contributions, and with them buy influence and power that corrupts our process and undermines our democracy. Happens all the time; happens with politicians I don’t support and those I do, happens with Democrats and happens with Republicans and Independents. Happens on many levels of politics too, federal and state and even local. And it undercuts our democratic process and causes injustice. You know all about it. I don’t know anybody who genuinely denies it.
Now, is the campaign finance reform bill that we have the tool to fix it? No. Could any legislation accomplish what needs to be accomplished and preserve our civil liberties? I don’t know. Do the absurdity and anti-American nature of some of the consequences of this bill need to be highlighted? Sure. Aren’t civil liberties, at the end of the day, the most important compact we have with government? Without a doubt. But you could tell the story in a more responsible way, which acknowledges why campaign finance reform often seems so absolutely necessary: the never-ending stream of influence peddling and vote buying and quid pro quo and outright corruption that ensures that corporate interests or anyone else who can pay will have significantly more power than those who can’t pay. You could make the video and point out that injustice and impediment to a truly democratic way of life, at the same time. Instead, you get half the story.
Schwenkler, incidentally, posted a comment on this thread at the American Scene that I had to read twice to make sure I got right: “Well, the House GOP and the movement libertarians. All a bunch of shills for corporate interests, they.” I had to read it over because he meant it sarcastically, and I find that bizarre, because of course libertarian orthodoxy really does render most libertarians unwitting shills for corporate interests. Although also unintentionally so, the mainstream libertarian agenda is in effect largely a sop to corporate interests. If you could wave a magic wand and enact your average libertarian’s economic agenda, our corporate leaders would fall into a joy-induced stupor. The libertarian economic agenda, to a great degree, just is the corporate economic agenda. Conor Friedersdorf once said that this congruence between conservative economic policy and the interests of the moneyed and the powerful is “neither coincidence nor conspiracy.” He was right, though not in the way he meant it. It’s true, most libertarians don’t want to increase corporate power. They just support policy positions that would ensure such a thing.
This highlights once again the troubled claims of an ideology to be a message of liberation when in fact it moves at almost every turn to make the worker less able to resist the coercion of his boss. The need to work is coercive, and arguably just as coercive as the power of government, if you have to work to eat and have to eat to live– especially in the context of a society without the social safety net mainstream libertarianism largely derides. Gotta work to eat, gotta work to have a place to live, gotta work to get medicine when you’re sick. Can’t have a minimum wage guaranteed by the government, can’t collectively bargain with a union, can’t be protected against discriminatory termination, can’t have your safety and health ensured by vigorous regulation. Just gotta work, just gotta take it, and if you don’t, enjoy life on the street. At arms length, individual policy positions seem to be in the favor of more liberty– no, businesses, you don’t have to pay your workers any particular wage; no, you don’t have to provide for your workers safety and health– but in the long run, they render more people less free by narrowing the rights of the individual to live in a humane system of employment, always with the threat of poverty as the coercive force keeping you within the system.
The same dynamic applies with campaign finance reform, and the unfettered flow of capital into politics. Out of context, saying people can give money to whomever they want is obviously on the side of increasing liberty. But in total, the use of money to gain political power ultimately makes all those incapable of or unwilling to pay up less free, by lowering their relative political power and making them less in control of their own lives than those who can pay. Personally, I find the tradeoffs in campaign finance reform as it is currently constituted just too big of an imposition on civil liberties, and the quotes in the movie clip are indeed deeply disturbing. More damningly, it doesn’t appear that the actual legislation we have does much to keep the money out anyway, and that’s just the nail in the coffin as far as defending status quo campaign finance reform. But let’s be real, and acknowledge the great cost at which the free flow of money into politics takes, and recognize that the failure to regulate the same, while preferable to the alternative, is nothing to celebrate.
One of the most dangerous and saddest facts of current American political dialogue, one found in my experience more often in conservative circles but plenty prevalent among liberals, is the effective deference to the moneyed powers of our society, even though often unintentional, and the refusal to acknowledge the banal truth of the everyday corruption of human power politics.