Unholy Alliance

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In one of the passages from Wealth of Nations less frequenly quoted by free-market fans, Adam Smith wrote:

People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.

There's a corrolary for politicians, I think: Officeholders of opposing parties seldom agree on anything unless it shores up their mutual interests as incumbent powerholders against the general public. The phrase "broad bipartisan support" should be spinetingling. Had David Broder mulled that over, he might not have written, with apparent surprise, in today's Washington Post:

One of the unexpected results of this bipartisan excess is a resolve by senators of both parties, led by Lott, chairman of the Rules Committee, to clamp down on 527s before the next election.

John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), who teamed up to sponsor the major campaign finance reform bill passed in 2002, can hardly believe the support they are getting for their new legislation restricting 527s. McCain-Feingold became law only after years of fierce battles, with Republican regulars fighting it every step of the way and some Democrats quietly hoping for its demise.

But of course, it makes perfect sense. McCain-Feingold may have been good for incumbents on net, but there was also the dicey matter of fussing with the pols' own cash flow, which made at least some nervous. No such reservation when what's at issue is only clamping down on the political speech of others. Anyone who's in the politics game is apt to have a metastasized will-to-control to begin with. Who wants all these interlopers throwing a wild card into the mix? Bonus amusement points here:

The legislation being drafted for the Senate has to walk a narrow constitutional line, because the reformers, including Lott, do not want to inhibit communication to voters by more traditional advocacy groups pushing particular issues or causes. But that's a matter of drafting, which can be solved.

Maybe it can in some ad hoc way, but can anyone give me a principled distinction here, aside from the fact that MoveOn is new and the Sierra Club is old?

NEXT: Thanks for Your Service, Now Go Directly to Jail

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  1. The great thing is that no matter how they write the fucking thing, it won’t the money from flowing.

  2. Our Republic was a better place when Senators would occasionally beat the shit out of each other with canes, spittoons, etc. in the Senate well.

  3. Ruthless,

    The one incident I can think of was a Representative (Brooks from S.C.) beating the crap out of a Senator (Sumner of Massachusetts).

    http://teachpol.tcnj.edu/amer_pol_hist/thumbnail186.html

  4. Gary-

    I agree. I actually believe that McCain and Feingold really, honestly, sincerely want to flush the money out of politics. (Not saying it’s a good thing, just saying they probably want to do it.) The other people who voted for the bill probably didn’t really want that, but McCain and Feingold probably honestly believe that if they just write it correctly they can do this right.

    There’s nothing more dangerous than a true believer.

  5. “…because the reformers, including Lott, do not want to inhibit communication to voters by more traditional advocacy groups pushing particular issues or causes.”

    kaff kaff right-wing churches kaff kaff.

    Ugh, indeed, there is nothing scarier than a “bipartisan effort.”

  6. Frankly, I don’t care if McCain and Feingold are maliciously underhanded or genuinely stupid. The result is the same either way.

  7. I am proud to say I an a descendant of this troublemaker.

    Elected to Congress in 1796, after having served in the Vermont legislature, Matthew Lyon continued his tirades against Adams and the Federalists in speeches from the House floor. On one occasion he responded to insults hurled at him by Federalist Roger Griswold of South Carolina by spitting on Griswold, thereby earning the nickname “Spitting Lyon, the Wild Irishman from Vermont.” Subsequently Griswold attempted to rebuke Lyon by caning him on the floor of the House. Lyon, however, managed to make his way to the House fireplace, grab a fireplace tong, defend himself with the tong, and inflict severe injuries on Griswold. A lithograph depicting this incident, widely circulated at the time (and reprinted many times since), helped make Matthew Lyon a figure of national celebrity and notoreity.

    In 1798, Matthew Lyon was arrested for violating the Sedition Act, a controversial law opposed vehemently by Lyon but passed by the Federalist-controlled Congress and signed by President Adams, which prohibited any American citizen from making defamatory statements about the President. The first person arrested for violating the Sedition Act, Matthew Lyon was tried, by a jury Lyon charged was packed against him, convicted, fined $1,060.96, and sentenced to four months in jail.

    As a result of his conviction and imprisonment, Matthew Lyon became a political martyr and a national hero to many, and he easily won re-election to Congress from his Vermont district, despite being unable to campaign as he was incarcerated at the time. After serving out his sentence in Vermont, Lyon made his way by carriage to Washington, D.C., to take his seat in the House of Representatives. Thousands of citizens lined his route from Vermont to Washington to give “Spitting Lyon” a hero’s welcome and cheer him on his way.

    http://www.viterbo.edu/personalpages/faculty/LEvans/Lyon.html

  8. James B.,

    That was back when Vermont had more than one Representative apparently. Just think, Bernie Sanders now represents Vermont. 🙁

  9. Our Republic was a better place when Senators would occasionally beat the shit out of each other with canes, spittoons, etc. in the Senate well.

    alas, mr. ruthless, this bipartisanship is merely further evidence of the rampant cooperation that is destroying the fabric of our society.

  10. I don’t know where McCain thinks his “reforms” are leading to, but I know for sure where Feingold wants them to go. Eliminate all private sources of campaign funding and have the government finance all election campaigns.

  11. MJ,

    Eliminate all private sources of campaign funding and have the government finance all election campaigns.

    And thereby force individuals to fund speech they may abhor, disagree with, etc. Note that the case law concerning the constitutionality of fees for student activities funds could be used to justify such a system. I can almost see the language of the Supreme Court’s decision upholding such in my mind.

  12. “The phrase “broad bipartisan support” should be spinetingling.”

    I can’t agree more. We are becoming such a nation of pussies that simple political conflict, no matter how justified, is something to be avoided. I’m also very insulted by the word “bipartisan”. Like there are only TWO political ways of thinking. There are only “red states” and “blue states”. Fucking irritating.

    Courage.

  13. Gary,

    Still, student activities fees don’t bar students from spending additional money on activities not covered by the fee. For the Court to uphold a ban on all private political donations would be a huge step … in the wrong direction, of course.

  14. “alas, mr. ruthless, this bipartisanship is merely further evidence of the rampant cooperation that is destroying the fabric of our society.”

    You got me thinking, nietzschius.
    Fabric is not a good metaphor for society.
    It implies a creator and a plan.

    Those who use the word, “fabric,” would be most frightened of the word, “anarchy.”

  15. crimethink,

    True enough, but I can see members analogizing to the student activity fee case law.

  16. Gary,

    For more accounts of violence in the US Congress, check out the book “Congressional Anecdotes” by Paul F. Boller. Activities like brawling and menacing with weapons were not precisely rare, especially in the period of 1830 to 1860. And while the Congress settled down after the Civil War, I’ve seen references to fistfights in state legislatures well into the 20th Century.

  17. Incumbents only win like 99% of the damn elections, they won’t be satisfied until it’s 100% and their sons get to take over their seats when they retire.

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