Creative Destruction

May 1, 2006

Senator McCain: “Clean Government” More Important than First Amendment Rights

Filed under: Free Speech,Politics — Robert @ 7:03 pm

Arizona Senator and Presidential hopeful John McCain, appearing on the Don Imus show, said that "I would rather have a clean government than one where quote First Amendment rights are being respected, that has become corrupt. If I had my choice, I'd rather have the clean government."

McCain's assertion reminds me, yet again, exactly why the Arizona Republican cannot be trusted with the presidency, or indeed, with any high office. I don't have any input into who the people of Arizona send to the Senate, but I have my own voice when it comes to the presidency, and I will never vote for a candidate who displays such disregard for the values of free political speech that our country is predicated upon.

Via Protein Wisdom.

Advertisements

22 Comments »

  1. Come on, guys. McCain is saying that we’ve created a system where it’s basically legal to bribe public officials, and this is a real problem. And he’s right.

    The 1st Amendment is not the same thing as free speech. The K Street Project was a Tom Delay effort to tell various private groups that if they associate with the wrong political party they will be shut out from government. This project is perfectly antithetical to the principles of free speech and free association, yet permissible within the 1st Amendment.

    Admittedly, I have my doubts about both the legality and the wisdom or campaign reforms that limit political speech 30 days before an election. But I can’t pretend that I don’t appreciate the concerns that drive McCain’s remarks.

    (Ironically, McCain’s remarks have shocked the good folk at Stop the ACLU, a web site that has never found a civil liberty is thought worth defending until now. The ACLU has generally opposed campaign finance reforms such as McCain Feingold, putting the ACLU and Stop the ACLU on the same side of this issue.)

    Comment by nobody.really — May 1, 2006 @ 10:27 pm | Reply

  2. Gotta agree with you. It’s a little unclear what McCain means by “quote First Amendment rights” or even “clean governement.” There is no call for enclosing First Amendment rights in irony quotes. It’s also bothersome that an aspirant to the presidency could miss the point that American democracy is, in fact, rather messy (as opposed to clean, I suppose). We muddle through and adapt as warranted. To make government orderly smacks of totalitarianism — especially when civil rights are viewed as the necessary trade-off.

    BTW, the First Amendment precisely enumerates free speech: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” I can hardly believe an anonymous commenter can miss that.

    Comment by Brutus — May 1, 2006 @ 10:39 pm | Reply

  3. Brutus, Nobody.Really is no more anonymous than I am. He (she?) has been posting under that name for years.

    It’s a little unclear what McCain means by “quote First Amendment rights” or even “clean governement.”

    In context, McCain was clearly criticizing the particular interpretation of First Amendment rights which says the First Amendment is incompatible with campaign finance reform (and I assume it is that particular interpretation which merits the scarequotes). It’s unfortunate that Bob’s out-of-context quoting may imply that McCain has some opposition to free speech in general.

    I think McCain is generally right. No constitutional right is absolute; there is always some context in which a compelling enough government interest can cause the government to infringe on that right. For instance, laws against slander infringe on the right to free speech, yet are still constitutional. I think the value of having elected officials who do not have to be constant professional fundraisers – and the value of not having Joe Billionaire’s political voice be ten thousand times louder than an ordinary citizens’ – is compelling enough to justify some incursions on free speech rights.

    On the other hand, that doesn’t mean I support every detail of McCain’s proposed legislation. I think there are better campaign finance reform proposals than what McCain is hawking.

    BTW, the First Amendment precisely enumerates free speech: …. I can hardly believe an anonymous commenter can miss that.

    Nobody.Really is correct, by the way, in saying there’s more to free speech than just the right not to have the government infringe on free speech. For example, if all public spaces (in the sense of “places citizens gather”) become private spaces (in the sense of “privately owned,”) that creates a threat to free speech in that protesters may have no legal place to protest, nor petitioners a legal place to gather signatures. This is a free speech issue, but it’s at the least arguable whether or not the privatization of public spaces is a First Amendment issue.

    That’s only one of dozens of possible examples. It’s only Americans who think that the only possible free speech issues are the ones that relate directly to the First Amendment.

    Comment by Ampersand — May 1, 2006 @ 11:39 pm | Reply

  4. Nobody, McCain’s concerns are fine. It’s his desire to use state power to enforce the way he thinks things should run which is objectionable – both in that the way he thinks things should run is wrong, and in that he is playing directly into the hands of people who genuinely want to restrict civil liberties (if he isn’t one of those people himself). It’s bizarre to me that people who go into conniptions that a librarian might be asked to pull Moussaoui’s borrowing record, are completely blase about proposals to essentially end the ability of individual people to participate in the political process, on the grounds that someone somewhere might take a bribe.

    People with political power are going to be attractive to bribers regardless of the regulatory structure. Those bribes can be listed on the front page of the NY Times (or on the opensecrets.org web site), or they can take place secretly, in quiet rooms and parks and smoky bars. Choose one.

    If we want “clean” government, then the very best thing to do is to starve the government. Nobody bribes a Congressman who has nothing to hand out.

    I share Brutus’ low valuation of “orderly” government. Cemeteries are orderly.

    Comment by bobhayes — May 1, 2006 @ 11:40 pm | Reply

  5. Amp, you and I and Brutus know who Nobody is because we know him personally. But unlike the case of your own netonym, I don’t think there’s an easy-to-find record of his actual identity out there; it’s a genuinely anonymizing moniker.

    And yes, I did just invent “netonym”, and yes, I am absurdly pleased with myself. If anybody else has previously coined it, I hereby declare that they must have built a time machine and stolen it from me. Bastard!

    …if all public spaces (in the sense of “places citizens gather”) become private spaces (in the sense of “privately owned,”) that creates a threat to free speech in that protesters may have no legal place to protest…

    You say that as though it’s a bad thing.

    …and the value of not having Joe Billionaire’s political voice be ten thousand times louder than an ordinary citizens…

    Joe Billionaire is inevitably going to be far, far louder in his political speech than his fellow citizens – inevitably. Short of complete fascism, there is no way to prevent it. The question isn’t “what can we do to stop Joe Billionaire”, the question is “how much violation of our civil rights will we endure so that we can PRETEND that we’re stopping Joe Billionaire”. Joe is going to go right on having way more influence than the rest of us.

    Comment by bobhayes — May 1, 2006 @ 11:50 pm | Reply

  6. Bob, the problem isn’t “bribery,” per se. I don’t think that many high politicians frequently alter their views based on receiving gifts and money.

    The problem is that our system, by making reaching and holding elected office so expensive, means that candidates who sincerely align themselves with the interests of big-money donors have a much better chance of being in office. Those people are not corrupt, nor are they taking bribes in the classic sense. But the system as a whole is favoring wealthy interests over the interests of the majority.

    Joe Billionaire is inevitably going to be far, far louder in his political speech than his fellow citizens – inevitably. Short of complete fascism, there is no way to prevent it.

    Agreed, but you’re letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. There is no way to prevent it, but there are ways to mitigate it that are short of fascism, and some of those ways ought to be explored.

    Comment by Ampersand — May 2, 2006 @ 12:13 am | Reply

  7. But the system as a whole is favoring wealthy interests over the interests of the majority.

    The first time I said “you say that as though it’s a bad thing” I was (mostly) kidding. But this time I’m (mostly) serious. What’s wrong with a system that mostly favors wealthy interests? If nothing else, that gives people a very strong incentive to create wealth, which in turn makes life better for everyone.

    I can’t think of a country that favors “the interests of the majority over the interests of the wealthy” where I would care to live. Such systems inevitably penalize wealth creation and end up making the lives of the majority comparatively worse.

    Why would we want to “mitigate” the harm done by Joe Billionaire’s speech? The peril to me is not a system where Joe Billionaire gets a heavy voice; the peril to me is a system where Joe Billionaire starts being better off if he tries to get the government to do things for him, instead of doing it himself. The ideal is to have a government which can do nothing for Joe Billionaire that he couldn’t more effectively accomplish by using his own time and resources. If Joe Billionaire’s speech is endangering the commonweal because he’s controlling the state like a puppet, then we have to make the state an ineffective puppet.

    Comment by bobhayes — May 2, 2006 @ 12:25 am | Reply

  8. the peril to me is a system where Joe Billionaire starts being better off if he tries to get the government to do things for him, instead of doing it himself

    But you don’t care if Joe Billionare has a bigger voice. Why on earth shouldn’t it be OK for him to outshout your opinion of what the government’s purpose is?

    Comment by mythago — May 2, 2006 @ 1:32 am | Reply

  9. It would be. In that case, however, Joe Billionaire is, in essence, making decisions about something that he owns fair and square. We can’t save people from themselves; everyone bears that burden on an individual basis.

    At the moment, billionaires don’t control the government. Nobody does; it’s too dispersed and gargantuan. They rich certainly have the means and the contacts to get big chunks of Leviathan’s fat, of course. It is always thus; this is one of the longstanding (and most valid) conservative assertions about the value of limited governance. Rich people always get the best stuff out of the deal.

    The only way to a clean government is to starve the beast.

    Comment by Robert — May 2, 2006 @ 1:38 am | Reply

  10. I looked (albeit briefly and unsuccessfully) for the context of McCain’s comments. If I got it wrong as quoted by Bob Hayes, then I’ll have to reconsider. There are plenty of instances of conflict between one right and another, or one social good and another. I can’t in good conscience see how abridging free speech would deter criminal activity associated with campaign finance.

    I honestly believed that “nobody really” is one of those default entries if one doesn’t enter a name, meaning it would be different people at different points. I’ve adopted “Brutus” as my netonym, but I’m known to a few folks for who I really am. I don’t know who Nobody Really is.

    As for Bob Hayes’ comments abjuring socialism (because it’s impractical) in comment 7, I’ll defer, as the comment thread has already veered well beyond the post topic.

    Comment by Brutus — May 2, 2006 @ 1:52 am | Reply

  11. comments abjuring socialism (because it’s impractical)

    Only impractical (and immoral) for state socialism. Private, voluntary socialism is highly desirable.

    Comment by Robert — May 2, 2006 @ 2:11 am | Reply

  12. It is always thus; this is one of the longstanding (and most valid) conservative assertions about the value of limited governance.

    For certain values of “limited”. Grover Norquist et al certainly support limiting government, but they mean limiting it only to those parts that directly benefit the rich.

    Comment by mythago — May 2, 2006 @ 2:59 am | Reply

  13. Mythago:
    For example…?

    Comment by Brandon Berg — May 2, 2006 @ 3:36 am | Reply

  14. What’s wrong with a system that mostly favors wealthy interests? If nothing else, that gives people a very strong incentive to create wealth, which in turn makes life better for everyone.

    Surely you’re not saying that people would lack strong incentive to get wealthy if our government was more egalitarian? Even if the government is more egalitarian, that won’t eliminate the natural human drive to buy tasty wine, drive shiny cars and read comic books.

    Second of all, you never responded to my point about government officials being full-time fundraisers. In our current system, raising money for the next election cycle has become the primary activity of many elected officials, and all the rest of governing is fit around the side. I don’t think that’s a great way to run things.

    Finally, if a set of policies is genuinely better for everybody, then why do we need to give the wealthy extra consideration in order for those policies to be supported? If the policies were really so great, they’d be supported by a majority even if democracy functioned well.

    I can’t think of a country that favors “the interests of the majority over the interests of the wealthy” where I would care to live. Such systems inevitably penalize wealth creation and end up making the lives of the majority comparatively worse.

    1) Probably the place in the world in which the wealthy get the most deference from government is Bangladesh; if you’ve got the cash, you can walk into any government office and get what you want. Denmark is probably the country where money holds the least sway. Personally, I’d rather live in Denmark than Bangladesh.

    2) I’m suspicious of “the majority.” I’d rather judge the worth of a system by the well-being of the least well-off in the system. If we have a system in which the majority do well but the poorest of the poor are homeless and starving, is that really better than a more equitable system in which everyone has a home and food?

    Nor, frankly, am I at all convinced that the majority of Australians are better off than the majority of folks in Norway.

    Comment by Ampersand — May 2, 2006 @ 6:38 am | Reply

  15. Actually, Nobody.Really’s secret identity is no longer so secret. At Amp’s place I remarked that I could not escape the power of Bob’s reasoning on some topic or other. Bob bemoaned the fact that he could not use this quote as an endorsement on his own blog because it came from “Nobody.Really.” On that occasion, I let it be known that I’m really Jack Abramoff. (And feel free to post that endorsement any time, Bob.)

    But that’s why Bob is prone to say things like “At the moment, billionaires don’t control the government. Nobody does….

    Or rather, did. But, hey, no use crying over spilt milk.

    Brutus, if you want to hear McCain’s remarks, you can find a recording here:
    http://stoptheaclu.com/archives/2006/04/30/mccain-clean-government-more-important-than-1st-amendment/#comments

    It’s a radio call-in show, and McCain tosses off some remarks in conjunction with discussing a bunch of stuff. To me, the remarks imply that McCain appreciates the tension between the right to spend to promote a message and the desire to reform campaign finance, and his conclusion that the right to spend should not trump all other concerns. The tone and context do not suggest that these remarks were carefully crafted to reflect the totality of his thinking on this subject (or any subject). But listen for yourself and draw your own conclusions.

    Bob suggests that the issues McCain raises could be rendered moot if only we had a government so inconsequential that no one would bother to manipulate it. Brutus aptly notes that this takes us far off the subject of campaign finance reform vs. the First Amendment, and even further from the topic of John McCain. Acknowledging this insight (and the fact that Amp largely beat me to the punch), I also will defer any rejoinder to another thread.

    Nobody bribes a Congressman who has nothing to hand out.

    No I don’t. Not that I ever would, even if he did have something to hand out. But certainly not then. Unless we’re talkin’ tribal money. But otherwise, no. Or very rarely.

    I mean, no comment.

    Comment by nobody.really — May 2, 2006 @ 11:55 am | Reply

  16. Second of all, you never responded to my point about government officials being full-time fundraisers. In our current system, raising money for the next election cycle has become the primary activity of many elected officials, and all the rest of governing is fit around the side. I don’t think that’s a great way to run things.

    Really?

    You’re saying you want Trent Lott, Bill Frist, and Tom DeLay to spend more time coming up with legislation, and less time taking money away from rich Republicans?

    I’d rather live in Denmark than in Bangladesh, too, but for other reasons. (Helllloooooo frauleins!) You don’t have to go NUTS about favoring the rich – but that should be the way your system leans.

    I’d rather judge the worth of a system by the well-being of the least well-off in the system. If we have a system in which the majority do well but the poorest of the poor are homeless and starving, is that really better than a more equitable system in which everyone has a home and food?

    It depends on why the poorest of the poor are homeless and starving. If it’s their own bad decisions and/or unwillingness to work, coupled with conscious evasion of social programs and private charity aimed at helping them, I have no problem with it. Some people want to drink themselves to death, and it’s not my place to tell them no. If they’re homeless and starving because nobody will let them settle in a place, and nobody will feed them until they get on their feet, that’s problematic. It also doesn’t describe any western country I know of – the former scenario does.

    Comment by bobhayes — May 2, 2006 @ 1:39 pm | Reply

  17. If the policies were really so great, they’d be supported by a majority even if democracy functioned well.

    The majority is very often wrong, especially when it comes to economics. That a policy is a good idea is no guarantee that people will vote for it.

    Insofar as income is positively correlated with education, it might be a good idea to give extra weighting to the policy preferences of the upper and upper-middle classes. And when we’re robbing Peter to pay Paul, it’s only fair that Peter should have more of a say than Paul.

    None of which is to say that unrestricted campaign funding is the best way to accomplish the goal of emphasizing the policy preferences of the wealthy, as this might lead to stressing the policy preferences of narrow interest groups, rather than of the upper class as a whole. My preference is to give extra votes to people who pay more taxes.

    If we have a system in which the majority do well but the poorest of the poor are homeless and starving, is that really better than a more equitable system in which everyone has a home and food?

    I’m with Robert on this one. My highest priority is to have a society in which people who work hard and behave responsibly can be as well off as possible. I have little sympathy for those who mess up their own lives.

    Comment by Brandon Berg — May 2, 2006 @ 8:44 pm | Reply

  18. Brandon Berg: I’m with Robert on this one. My highest priority is to have a society in which people who work hard and behave responsibly can be as well off as possible. I have little sympathy for those who mess up their own lives.

    The problem with this thinking, IMO, is that once wealth and power is amassed by those hard-working achievers, it tends to corrupt them. They turn their backs on their fellow man, blame failures for their own inadequacy (which often has nothing to do with the cause of failure), and worst, set about engineering a structure that returns to them, the acheivers, more and more of the spoils while exploiting and oppression those beneath them. Something about camels and needles, ya know.

    Comment by Brutus — May 2, 2006 @ 10:57 pm | Reply

  19. …Once wealth and power is amassed by those hard-working achievers, it tends to corrupt them. They [lure the children of the poor into their grand mansions so that they may serve them on diamond-studded platters at their dinner parties].

    I’m 95% confident that this is all rubbish, but you’re not being specific enough that I can give any meaningful answer.

    Comment by Brandon Berg — May 3, 2006 @ 1:21 am | Reply

  20. In a valiant effort to find a link to campaign finance, let me suggest that this conversation is starting to sound a bit like last year’s discussions of bankruptcy reform. People grumbled about how fatcats were exploiting the system to declare bankruptcy while keeping their huge pensions and their mansions in Florida and Texas, and how lazy or stupid people were burdening us good folk, as well as banks and credit card companies.

    Bill Clinton was not a bankruptcy reformer, noting that 90+% of bankruptcies were the result of the loss of a wage earner (through job loss, divorce, disability or death) or medial problem, especially among the uninsured. Under then-existing bankruptcy laws, the number of people who might benefit from bankruptcy was estimated to be roughly 15x as large as the number of people who actually filed, undermining the idea that we live in a “culture of bankruptcy!” And those poor abused banks and credit card companies had been crying themselves to record profits year after year. Bill Clinton refused to sign any bankruptcy bill that was premised on such shaky assumptions about how poor people were ruining the economy.

    But, dammit, those millionaires in mansions just piss people off. Oh, and did I mention that the banks and credit card companies grumbled handsomely to our elected officials? Bill Clinton stanchly refused to sign bankruptcy reform, but with sizable campaign contributions the newly-minted Senator from New York became only too willing to promote the bill. And good ol’ Charles Grassley, who regularly professes opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage on biblical grounds, somehow couldn’t bring himself to adopt a biblical concern about debt and usury. After receiving substantial campaign contributions, he opined that it would be wrong to impose such biblical views on a diverse American population.

    So last year we got “reformed” bankruptcy laws. Do they keep bankrupt millionaires from retaining their huge pensions and their mansions? I don’t see how. Have they changed the fact that 90+% of bankruptcies are the result of the loss of a wage earner (through job loss, divorce, disability or death) or a medial problem? I don’t see how, although now we have a new group of families in financial distress because, with the major breadwinner in the National Guard, they have been relegated to lower income indefinitely. Too bad those lazy, shiftless people didn’t plan ahead so they could avoid burdening the rest of us.

    I don’t doubt that there are plenty of examples about people who are poor through demonstrably bad decisions. I just question whether it makes sense to design your society to punish the divorced, the disabled and the diseased just to ensure that no guilty slackers go free.

    Comment by nobody.really — May 3, 2006 @ 5:32 am | Reply

  21. I have little sympathy for those who mess up their own lives.

    Are we back to Calvinism, where money is a sign of God’s favor and a marker of morality?

    Comment by mythago — May 3, 2006 @ 10:45 am | Reply

  22. Mythago:
    Money can be a sign of many things, including hard work, intelligence, dumb luck, or criminal behavior. But poverty, unless it stems from a severe handicap, is generally a sign of having screwed up somehow.

    Comment by Brandon Berg — May 7, 2006 @ 4:49 pm | Reply


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: