CNN’s Congressional Correspondent Jonathan Karl enjoyed a real treat this week: He got to travel with John McCain on the Congressional tram and catch all the witty morsels that fell from the Arizona Senator’s mouth. Karl laughed appreciatively as the Keating Five member discoursed smugly on his efforts to “reform” campaign finance.
The media, of course, delight in McCain because he is a Republican who hates other Republicans. But they also cotton to his selective reverence for the First Amendment, which empowers them while enfeebling average Americans so foolishly caught up in the “mischief” of “special interests.” Is the mainstream media a “special interest”? Heavens no. It is a tribune for Truth.
Could there be a more prima facie violation of the First Amendment than the media-McCain campaign finance bill? If it is constitutional to prevent special-interest groups from using money to pay for television or radio ads that challenge a federal candidate two months before a general election and one month before a primary one, then why isn’t it constitutional to disallow the New York Times from running an editorial page during the same period of time? According to the reading of the First Amendment embedded in McCain’s bill, it would surely be constitutional to declare that CNN’s Inside Politics, a soft media campaign for Democrats, go off the air
before such elections.
After all, isn’t the goal to eliminate “disproportionate influence” in politics? Oh no. By disproportionate influence, the media-McCain alliance means people they don’t like (Rush Limbaugh listeners, Naderites who foiled Al Gore’s campaign) — not the Beltway barnacles and blowhards who will continue to exert an outsized influence over our politics long after McCain’s unconstitutional claptrap passes.
This “reform” is no reform at all, but a deformation of democracy in its name. Those with power are simply defining the rules for its challenge, rigging the game in their favor. What they call progress is nothing more than corrupt incumbent and establishment protection.
The American people’s interest in this subject was always negligible. But had the media put into perspective the issue of “soft money” — a sinister euphemism for normal party building — what little enthusiasm they do feel toward it would vanish.
An honest media would have defined the issue as an attempt by the establishment to wrest power away from the grass roots and the maverick wealthy. But the “pro-choice” media are feverishly “anti-choice” when it comes to political participation. Throwing up barriers to unfettered political expression is suddenly the mark of enlightenment to the media.
The media now prides itself in comforting the comfortable. Political outsiders and scrappy upstarts won’t stand much of a chance in the media-McCain regulatory universe. The incumbency rate is already absurdly high. But maybe under McCain’s leadership it can hit 100% soon.
Taking on a well-fed, CNN-rolodexed incumbent is a near impossibility without the freedom to raise big money quickly, spend your own dough, or get one’s friends at a special-interest group to throw an advertising hail mary a few weeks before an election.
Without Big Money in politics the influence will naturally shift even more to the Big Media, the gatekeeper of most political information. As citizens find it more difficult to get into the democratic game through donations, the power of the media will explode, since they control the only chip — public exposure — left in the game.
The table is always open to McCain, so his anti-democratic regulations cost him nothing. And having already raised plenty of dirty money, he won’t need to scour for clean money under the new regime.
McCain’s authority on the dangers of sin — as he would piously posture when pressed about his links to the Keating savings & loan scandal — was that he had committed it. Has it ever occurred to him that the answer to corruption in American politics is for corrupt pols to leave it?
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