Who or what made Arizona Sen. John McCain the arbiter of appropriate political discourse in America? The answer, of course, is John McCain, with the eager assistance of liberal pundits who view the senator’s carefully cultivated reputation as a “maverick” and Republican heretic as a stamp of respectability and virtue.
The only thing more annoying than the increasingly shrill exchange of volleys about who did what in the Mekong River delta in 1968 is the fawning treatment McCain is receiving from both campaigns and the media, who have anointed him referee.
This is more than ironic, given the role McCain played in creating the situation he now deplores. The rise of so-called 527 groups — the supposedly independent groups that have sprung up as surrogate hatchet-swingers — is a direct result of McCain-Feingold campaign finance reforms that were supposed to lead to kinder, gentler, less corrupting political campaigns.
But this attempt to stifle free speech — we view political donations as a protected form of expression — was not only a danger to the First Amendment, but bound to go awry, as all other campaign reforms have.
Rather than admit the mistake and acknowledge this has all been a stupid and unconstitutional game of Washington whack-a-mole, McCain and other “reformers” are now vowing legal and legislative action to regulate the 527s.
“I look forward to working with the president, both in the courts and through legislation, to force the Federal Election Commission to regulate 527s,” McCain said last week. The senator obviously has lost it. Such pledges can only mean that further debacles and infringements of free speech lie ahead.
“Far from banishing money from politics, McCain-Feingold has merely moved it out of the major parties and into the political shadows, where it is less accountable,” John Fund wrote in the Wall Street Journal. And that’s the point. We long have favored streamlining campaign finance laws and emphasizing full disclosure. The answer isn’t additional limits on free speech, but moving participants more fully into the sunshine.
In other words, we favor taking seriously the exact words of the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.”
What is it about the word “free” that McCain and his misguided cohorts can’t seem to understand?