One week ago, in the wee hours of Valentine's Day morning, the U.S. House of Representatives struck a blow against the freedom of Americans to criticize their government, and passed the Shays-Meehan campaign finance bill. Only 189 members of the House had the courage and honor to defend the Constitution and vote against Shays-Meehan. They deserve our thanks. But unless the current efforts at "reform" can be derailed, we will soon find ourselves with less political freedom than ever before in American history.
Many Republicans and Democrats think that money equals corruption in politics. And they think there is too much money in politics today, making our politics awfully corrupt. (Never mind that we spend more advertising beer!) To reduce this corruption they think government must further regulate and restrict how Americans speak and spend their money.
Of course, they only want to curb the most important speech, political speech. Licentious speech, such as profanity and sexual exhibitionism, enjoys unprecedented freedom today. But why is it that for all the talk about "getting special interests out of politics," no one mentions the one interest that will benefit most from increased campaign finance regulations — government itself?
The answer is modern liberalism, now more than a century old. Regulating the political speech of Americans is just one of its legacies.
The brainchild of Darwinian thinkers and political leaders such as Woodrow Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt, John Dewey, and Herbert Croly, who were greatly influenced by the German statist philosophers Georg Hegel and Max Weber, modern liberalism sought to replace limited constitutional government by consent with an unlimited bureaucratic "state."
Government-by-bureaucratic-fiat was regarded as an innovative government reform, because bureaucratic "experts" would be impartial in doling out "social justice." Unlike elected officials, professional bureaucrats would not be beholden to "special interests" or corrupted by money in politics. Sound familiar?
The one thing that has stood in the way of modern liberal politics is the Constitution. The Constitution was designed to protect the rights and liberties of citizens by limiting the power of government, and specifying what government may and may not do.
For modern liberals this has been a problem. A limited constitutional government lacks the power to regulate the lives and expropriate the property of its citizens. By preventing the centralization of political power, the Constitution represents an obstacle to building a large modern regulatory and welfare state.
The early liberals did not make much headway in their war against the Constitution, in large part because their disdain and rejection of American constitutionalism was so blatant. (In his first book, Princeton professor and future U.S. President Woodrow Wilson described the Constitution as "political witchcraft!") They needed someone who could undermine the Constitution while sounding patriotic — someone who could introduce European statism and socialism to America piecemeal, while making it appear consistent with traditional American constitutional principles.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt would prove to be the man, followed later by Lyndon Johnson. FDR's New Deal and LBJ's Great Society were the means of creating, and enshrining, the modern administrative-welfare state. And it was sold to Americans under the pretense of expanding their natural and constitutional rights. (FDR repeatedly called for an "economic bill of rights," which meant nothing more than government taking money and property from some and redistributing it to others.)
Naturally, though, as government increasingly regulated how Americans lived and went about their business, Americans responded by speaking out more and spending more money to influence the growing tangle of regulations. And there began the rub. Government then said it needed to restrict how Americans engage in politics, further regulating our lives and further increasing the power of government, because Americans were spending too much money in politics. And so the cycle of modern liberalism continues today.
It's no coincidence that every major campaign reform law in American history has followed a surge in the growth of government regulation. The Tillman Act of 1907 followed the Progressive Movement; the Hatch Act of 1939 followed the New Deal; and the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, and the 1974 FECA amendments, followed the Great Society.
Campaign finance reform is nothing more than a cover for increasing the size and scope of the federal government, which already exercises too much unconstitutional power over its citizens. Whether "reformers" identify themselves as Democrats or Republicans is unimportant. They are above all disciples of modern liberalism. They seek to replace constitutional government of the people, by the people, for the people, with administrative government of the bureaucrats, by the bureaucrats, and for the bureaucrats.
Hats off to those House members who had the courage to do the right thing and voted against Shays-Meehan. Shame on those who didn't. But all is not lost. President Bush can still veto the new campaign finance law. Failing that, the Supreme Court can strike it down as unconstitutional, which it surely will. We hope at least one branch of the national government will take a stand for the people and the people's Constitution.