The Lonely Centrist

A place for reasoned debate about the issues of the day.

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Thursday, December 22, 2005

First Steps to Dictatorship?

Rob Richie and Ryan O'Donnell, of the Center for Voting and Democracy, offer this editorial in today's Washington Post.

What caught my eye was this: "Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco has postponed city elections indefinitely, thereby extending the term of the city's mayor by executive decree."

I couldn't help but think of all the far left blogs out there, like the bitter Ted Rall , and nutty left wing groups, such as NOW, that accused President Bush of having some grand plot to cancel elections to remain in power. Where are they today, now that Democrat actually has cancelled elections?

It will be interesting to see if the right wing blogs are as nutty.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Another Contender for Most Naive Man?

Regular readers of this blog - and the three of you know who you are - know that we've dubbed Fred Wertheimer of the lobbying group Democracy 21 the Most Naive Man in America, though we did suggest a competitor in Larry Noble of the Center for Responsive Politics.

Today, a new contender emerges. Here is Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, on new Federal Election Commission designee Hans von Spakovsky:

The Bush approach to presidential power is simple,
straightforward and clear: “L’etat, c’est moi.” As conservative constitutional scholar Bruce Fein puts it, even King George III would blush at asserting this level of bald, unchecked power. But the way in which the president is handling the revelations of secret wiretaps on Americans--unapologetic, and promising to continue doing it--makes it clear that this is just what the president believes.

Of course, we can feel better with the administration’s assurances that there were checks on the president’s wiretapping--by the Justice Department. Especially since those assurances come at the same time we have learned that the unanimous career-staff recommendation that the Texas redistricting scheme engineered by Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) that violated the Voting Rights Act was derailed by Justice Department politicos. That followed on the heels of the revelation that the abominable Georgia voter identification law, also challenged by career Justice attorneys as a poll tax, was derailed by some of the same politicos.

We can be even more reassured since this week one of the key
politicos in these cases, Hans von Spakovsky, was rewarded with a nomination to the Federal Election Commission.

Well, duh, ya' big idiot! How do you think one gets nominated to the FEC? Do you think people who get these appointments are not supporters of the President? It's a political appointment. The naivete of the campaign finance reform lobby never ceases to amaze.

If anyone cares, the Skeptic addresses the merits of some of Ornstein's arguments on the voting issue.

Finally Asking the Right Question

The revelation about the Adminstration's secret spying program is troubling. The unwillingness of many on the left to take seriously the terrorist threat makes one instinctively sympathetic to the President, but even his most cool-headed supporters find this appropriately troubling.

Senator Carl Levin, ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, asks, "Where does he find in the Constitution the authority to tap the wires and the phones of American citizens without any court oversight?" This is an excellent question, exactly the question Congress ought to ask, and the President should have asked.

I do not wish to minimize the importance of this issue - the war against terrorism is the most important issue facing the country today, and far too many people treat it far too cavalierly - whether it is the Howard Dean and Democrats in Congress, and even more some of their far-out friends in the blogosphere, that refuse to take the threat seriously, and can only think of partisan advantage, or whether it is the Administration and some of its more aggressive supporters, who seem to be offended that anyone would question warrantless domestic spying, let alone torture as a means of interrogation.

But that said, the Centerman wishes that Mr. Levin's question - "Where in the Constitution does he find the authority?" - were asked a bit more often on Capitol Hill. Where is the authority for Congress to regulate campaign expenditures and contributions? Where is the authority for "No Child Left Behind" and the entire Department of Education?" Where is the authority for the "Gun Free School Zone" act? Where is the authority for the Department of Energy? Where, quite frankly, is the authority for much, much, much of what Congress does?

The Centerman understands that lawyers, judges, and law professors have crafted arguments finding such authority in the Constitution, but such authority would not be apparent to the normal person, and the question is rarely even asked. Moreover, the theories that find authority for Congress to play such a dominant role in our lives rely on expansive interpretations of Constitutional language.

But he who lives by the sword dies by the sword. You cannot hold that the Constitution is malleable and expandable when you want it to be, and then express shock when a President does the same thing and audaciously interprets his own powers, as Commander in Chief, in a similarly sweeping fashion.

One would like to think that the President's critics would recognize this after the spying debate is over, but the Centerman has no illusions that this will be the case.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Same ol', same ol'

The so-called "Reform" Community is finally up with its response to last week's FEC nominations. It's the usual drivel - one hates to even link to it. Indeed, as I start to write about it, I find I lack the stomach. So I'll erase what I'd started to write, and just refer my gentle readers to an independent expert, the Skeptic.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Another reason campaign finance reform is a bad idea

Another reason campaign finance reform is a bad idea is demonstrated by President Bush's new appointees to the Federal Election Commission, announced yesterday. They are Democrats Robert Lenhard and Steven Walther, and Republicans David Mason (reappointed) and Hans A. von Spakovsky (see p. 6 of the last of these links) (Is this a picture of Hans?).

The problem is unrelated to any criticism these nominees are likely to get from the so-called "reform" community, though they will get plenty. The problem is not the nominees, but a law that screws up the political system and allows politicians to try to use the power of government to directly harass their political opponents.

Let's start with Spakovsky. The types of criticisms you see in the articles linked above (He's anti-voting rights blah blah blah) are more or less left wing garbage and hysteria. That's not the problem. But Spakovsky is, as those articles reveal, an expert in voter fraud and voting systems, not campaign finance - see especially the New Yorker article (scroll down a bit for the part on Hans). Why was he appointed to the FEC, which is all about campaign finance? Well, here is a quote from the White House, through the Kansas City Star: "The president believes that he will take a fair and accurate view of the federal regulations and also the role that the agency plays in rule making," said White House spokeswoman Erin Healy.

And what does that mean? According to the Skeptic, a very knowledgeable observer who appears to have been the first to report Spakovsky's impending nomination, the Republican and White House political machinery is obsessed with using the regulatory power of the FEC to "get" it's political opponents organized as 527 organizations. And the White House was known to be very upset that the man Spakovsky will replace, Bradley Smith, never accepted the White House's interpretation of the law regarding 527s, and successfully built a bi-partisan coalition of Commissioners to head off regulation at the FEC.

It is hard to think that Spakovsky will not be a more partisan commissioner than Smith. Similarly, Don Lenhard has been named to replace Scott Thomas. Scott Thomas was almost certainly the most regulatory members of the Commission, and that was bad. But he was also probably one of the least partisan. Lenhard is reported to be less regulatory, but as a long-time Union lawyer, it is probably fair to suspect that he will be more reflexively pro-union/pro-Democrat and anti-GOP member. Steve Walther, meanwhile, was Democratic leader Henry Reid's recount attorney.

The McCain-Feingold law, and the Supreme Court's shameful opinion upholding it, have dramatically raised the opportunities for the use of campaign finance law for partisan purposes. These nominations suggest to the Centrist that both sides are gearing up for that battle. This is not good government, but an abandonment of the once unremarkable proposition that voters, not lawyers, ought to decide elections. You'd have to be quite naive to think otherwise.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Got Freedom?

Today, December 15, is the anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights - you know, the first ten amendments to the Constitution... you know, free speech, freedom to worship, right to bear arms, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, no quartering of troops in homes, etc. You know, don't you?

Ratified December 15, 1791. God Bless America.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Eugene McCarthy, R.I.P.

Eugene McCarthy, a champion of freedom, died today at the age of 89.

McCarthy opposed the Vietnam War early, and his 1968 presidential candidacy on a peace platform knocked Lyndon Johnson out of the race, and hence the presidency.

He was a plaintiff in Buckley v. Valeo, challenging campaign finance regulations, and remained a perceptive and colorful critic of these regulations throughout his life. McCarthy is usually credited with being the first to note that, "the Founding Fathers pledged their 'lives, fortunes, and sacred honor' to the cause of liberty, not their 'Lives, sacred honor, and fortunes up to $1000 per annum.'" He was also a sharp critic of taxpayer funded campaigns, frequently pointing out that the founders, "did not go and ask King George for matching funds."

In recent years, he was critical of government excesses in the War on Terror, without joining the over-the-top Michael Moore crowd. And McCarthy was too much of a gentleman to be sucked in to the nasty rhetoric of such people. He always assumed the best motives in his opponents, and treated opposing arguments fairly and with respect.

He will be missed. R.I.P.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Congress fiddles while Rome burns

Talk about a time waster.

  • The Skeptic
  • Andrew Sullivan
  • Michael Barone
  • The New Republic
  • National Review
  • Democracy Project
  • Bob Bauer
  • Center for Competitive Politics
  • Ryan Sager
  • Going to the Matt
  • Professor Bainbridge
  • Volokh Conspiracy
  • Mystery Pollster
  • Amitai Etzioni
  • Alexander Chrenkoff
  • Middle East Media Research Institute
  • Right Democrat
  • Democrats for Life