The Lonely Centrist

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

See my complete profile

Sunday, July 30, 2006

"Reform" of Public Funding Rears its Head - But Where is Sen. McCain?

A bill has been introduced in Congress to "repair" the public funding system for presidential campaigns. The sponsors are the usual, Representatives Shays and Meehan and Senators Feingold and --- Hey, wait a minute - where is Senator McCain?

That's right, Senator McCain has not signed on to this latest bid to expand the public funding system of presidential campaigns. According the the New York Sun, it's just politics. Senator McCain probably doesn't plan to take public funds in his 2008 presidential run, figuring he can do better raising money privately. As Meredith McGeehee of the pro-public funding Campaign Finance Institute puts it, "He does not want to be caught in a position where he can be accused, rightly or wrongly, of hypocrisy." Meredith, I'm afraid that that train has already left the platform. And then some. Sorry.

Meanwhile, in the same article, John Samples of the Cato Institute opines that Senator McCain doesn't want to alientate GOP conservatives he'll need to get the nomination, and who hate public funding of campaigns as much as they hate the restrictions on advertising that were included in McCain-Feingold, the 2002 law that - tee hee - cleaned up politics.

Some criticism of the proposal can be found, here, here, here, and here.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Insipid Press

I find sometimes that I can't say enough bad things, or come up with enough bad words, to describe the American press. Trite, insipid, stupid, vacuuous, foolish, and pusilanimous, are just a few words that come to mind.

One has set me off today is Dick Polman's column. It's pretty simple, really. Polman is arguing that the President has handed the Democrats a big political issue by vetoing federal funding for stem cell research. Polman notes that this research is supported even by a majority of Republicans, not to mention Democrats and independents. All true, and it may be a gift to Democrats.

But note that not once does Polman suggest that anything motivated the White House to cast its first veto in nearly 6 years except political calculation - because of his "fealty to the religious right." Polman thinks of himself as so smart, so worldly wise and cynical, but he's an idiot. Why would Bush take such a move, which, for all the reasons Polman outlines, is horrible for the GOP's fall electoral prospects, based on political calculation? It's even bad for Bush's own poll numbers, just when they were rebounding. This is the same type of reporting we saw a year ago when the Republicans in Congress took up the Terri Schiavo case. But in fact, it is always the reporting. It seems beyond Polman's comprehension that maybe, just maybe, the President is willing to damage his own poll numbers and risk the seats of vulnerable Republicans such as Rick Santorum precisely because he actually believes in his position. And maybe, just maybe, that position actually raises serious moral concerns, as recognized by non-journalists.

In the end, Polman's column, like so much reporting nowadays, not only does nothing to help us understand the issues underlying support or opposition to federal funding of stem cell research - it doesn't even help us understand the politics, because Polman is so smugly cynical that he can't consider the most obvious explanations for what is going on. But we shouldn't be too hard on Polman - his reporting is typical, not atypical.

Recently, Karl Rove lashed out at the press for their "corrosive" influence on public dialogue, with their focus on "process and not substance." I'm not a big Rove fan, but on this one I think he hit the nail on the head.

A Melancholy Anniversary

I always hated the Lady Di craze, never finding her at all worth the energy or adoration. Nonetheless, it seems fitting to note that today is the 25th anniversary of the marriage of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Metaphor Meltdown and Democratic Divisiveness

I commented a bit substantively on the renewal of the Voting Rights Act here. (See also this post from last summer). I can't help but make a few other comments on yesterday's signing.

First were some tortured comments from Rep. David Scott (D-GA.). According to Cox News, President Bush promised to "vigorously enforce" the Act and defend it in court. Scott then commented to reporters:
George Bush laid the gauntlet down. We will hold his feet accountable
to it.

Huh? Hold his feet accountable? To the gauntlet? But Scott wasn't finished. He continued,

"We're not out of the woods... The Voting Rights Act is a liberator of

A "liberator of punishment?" He means the voting rights act frees up states to punish people? What?

Meanwhile, Howard Dean, the disgraceful Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, who has recently been seen comparing a Republican to Stalin while calling the President "divisive," chose the moment to criticize Republicans for their "assault on voting rights." Good timing, Howard. That'll bring us together.

President Bush Signs Voting Rights Act Renewal

Yesterday President Bush signed a 25 year renewal of the Voting Rights Act.

One of the most successful laws in history, the VRA, first enacted in 1964, specifically put an end to many of the legal tactics that southern states had used to deny black citizens the vote. Moreover, it required any further changes in voting procedures in covered states to be pre-cleared by the Department of Justice, thus heading off future, creative legal ploys by segregationist state legislatures. Its success as a matter of fact, and its additional importance as a matter of symbol, cannot be denied. The Act, originally a "temporary" measure, was reauthorized three previous times by Congress, most recently in 2002, when it was reauthorized for 25 years.

Of course, much has changed in over 40 years. I think it is doubtful that, were the VRA not renewed, we would see a serious renewal of efforts to disenfranchise blacks or other minorities. But there are others who disagree, and as a general safeguard against abuse, renewal of the Act can probably be justified in any case. On the other hand, 25 years is a long time. Key parts of the Act - including the pre-clearance provisions - only apply to particular states and portions of states (mainly in the deep south), and are based on voter registration and turnout data now nearly half a century old. Whether this "temporary" measure can truly be justified for more than 65 years from its original enactment - which is what the new reenactment does - is somewhat questionable.

More unfortunate to me is that this year's congressional debate, and the extensive period of the renewal, have cut off a badly needed debate about the VRA. The VRA does not only prohibit laws aimed at preventing minorities from voting. It has also been interpreted by the Supreme Court to mandate the creation of "majority-minority" districts, in which minority voters constitute a sufficient voting block to elect the candidate of their choice. This certainly led to the election of more black representatives in Congress and in state legislatures, but at a price. To create these districts, black voters were often "packed" into districts, and given the voting patterns of American blacks (due, in part, to 1964 Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater's opposition to the VRA), that means creating districts that are very liberal, Democratic Party strongholds. Meanwhile, surrounding districts are left with few black voters, often creating very conservative, GOP strongholds. Whether this is a good dynamic - or even a good way to maximize minority political power (holding a what are still a relatively small number of seats, while having little influence over the majority of seats) is questionable.

But this debate was largely missing from renewal, in part because the public doesn't understand that the VRA has been used this way, and in part because debating the issue seems to lead to immediate racial demagoguery on both sides. Unfortunatly, by renewing the Act for such a long period, we won't have this debate soon. Rather, it is more likely to be decided in the courts. A public debate and decisions made in the electoral arena - tempered, of course, by the requirements of the Constitution enforced by the Courts - would have been a much better result.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Anonymity and Issues

I liked this post from Bob Bauer, for the obvious reason that I agree totally.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Sorry Honey, I Forgot Your Anniversary

A year has come and gone since this little blog got started. In fact, more than a year - we hit the one year mark on July 10. And completely forgot about it.

The Lonely Centrist hasn't quite played out as I thought. Originally, I was to have a partner, but at the last minute he pulled out, for reasons I think perfectly appropriate. The blog's focus has been more narrow than I had anticipated - we had envisioned a site for general discussion of politics and issues, but it seems I focus mainly on campaign finance and political reform issues, althought I try to raise some other topics now and again. This is because - and it seems strange to me - I find increasingly that I've lost my interest in debating policy. Perhaps the same impulse that led me to feel detached from my friends of both left and right has simply left me tired of politics.

I've also found how tough it is to keep up a good blog, especially alone. Originally, we'd hoped to add in, for example, classic movie reviews, like this one, each week-end. That's also fallen off. Too often this blog has gone dark for several days at a time.

Still, I'm not prepared to give it up. My campaign finance commentary, in particular, has drawn some attention. Winfield Myers at the Democracy Project gave me an early boost. Mike Krempasky of the popular Red State called the Lonely Centrist "the best underrated blog you've never read," which I'm pretty sure is a compliment. Matt Johnston of Going to the Matt did a nice profile/interview on me.

Rick Hasen of Election Law Blog kind of likes the blog. He seems really put out that I blog anonymously or consider myself a centrist. While admitting that I "know a great deal about election law," he seems to think my posts cannot be evaluated on their own merit. (That, of course, is one thing I dislike about campaign finance law - it takes the focus off the issues and puts it on the speaker.) Anyway, he has linked here without shame, and I appreciate it - even if anonymity prohibits me from thanking you in person, Rick.

Not everyone liked the blog. Perhaps the most controversial thing I've published is a series of posts on the politicized career staff at the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division. See here and here. Some complained that I was attacking the backgrounds of Justice bureaucrats, while my own background remains unknown. But they miss the point. I don't claim any legitimacy for my views based on my background. The Department of Justice bureaucrats and their fans were making precisely that claim - that their backgrounds entitled their opinions to special respect as non-partisan, non-ideological interpretations of the law. I merely pointed out - with nothing but facts - that that was open to question.

The DOJ posts drove readership to a record level in January, but unfortunately I was unable to build on the momentum and as I rarely had time to post in February and March.

Anyway, I hope - and in the areas of Voting Rights Act Enforcement and Campaign Finance, think I have - contributed something meaningful to the debate. I appreciate those of you who come here regularly. I'll try to post more regularly, too.


Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Most Naive Man in America

It's been a while since we checked in with the Most Naive Man in America, Fred Wertheimer. We would never dream of mocking a person's looks (and we're smart enough not to put up a photo on this site!).But this little tidbit from Skeptic's Eye is just too darn good to pass up.

This is Fred Wertheimer. And this? You tell us.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

On Campaign Finance: Does Privacy Matter?

For years, even opponents of campaign finance reform have assumed that disclosure is a good thing. Thus, disclosure has become sacrosant. Justice Brandeis's old bromide - which is almost certainly incorrect, by the way, when taken literally - that, "sunlight is the best disinfectant," is repeatedly endlessly, like some medieval spell to ward off corruption.

But disclosure comes with a price, too. Even the Supreme Court has recognized this, in cases such as McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission, in which an individual and her school aged children faced retaliation from the school board and teachers for opposing a school tax; and NAACP v. Alabama, in which, in the 1950s deep South, the state sought the names of donors to the NAACP.

Here, Steve Hoersting of the Center for Competitive Politics has made one of the first sensible attempts I've seen to explain when disclosure has value and when it does not; and why disclosure of "grassroots" political activity that does not involve direct contact between the spender and the officeholder ought not be subject to mandatory disclosure and, hence, possible legislative retaliation.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Reagan Revisionism

Fred Barnes had this interesting column in yesterday's Wall Street Journal. Seems to me about right, especially concerning Reagan's partisanship, and more that of the Democrats. It does seem to me that the partisanship is more bitter now than then; more hardened, with less listening. Maybe it's part of the cost for the years of harsh partisan denunciations. Democratic activists keep thinking that the party's problem is that it is not "tough enough." That's probably the exact opposite of the truth. It's problem is that it has squandered credibility as a responsible opposition by reflexively opposing everything Bush, and through intemperate public pronouncements.

I've said it repeatedly here, we need a good Democratic opposition. We're not getting one.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Fortunately, We've got McCain-Feingold

According to National Journal's Congress Daily (paid subscription required), the Republican Party is asking House members to cough up money for the fall campaigns - they hope to get members to contribute over $17 million.

Majority Leader Boehner donated $550,000 and Majority Whip Blunt contributed
$500,000 at the weekly House Republican Conference meeting. The top four elected GOP leaders are each expected to contribute $550,000 toward the effort. The
program asks members to contribute funds directly to the NRCC from their
campaign re-election accounts or leadership PACs, or in fundraising drives for
the committee. The NRCC has set a fundraising target for each member, depending
on that member's seniority, committee leadership and political vulnerability. An
NRCC spokesman said the targets range from $70,000 for GOP incumbents in
difficult races to $550,000 for elected leaders. Reps. Adam Putnam, R-Fla., John
Shimkus, R-Ill., Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., and Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., will serve as
deputies to assist Cantor in collecting checks from their Republican colleagues.

In the past, the parties would just raise "soft money" for this type of thing, but then McCain-Feingold prohibited party committees from raising soft money. Now we've got members spending more time than ever raising cash. Now there's improvement.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The American Left and the Mexican Election

Mexico's razor close presidential election, in which the Center-Right candidate Felipe Calderon scored a narrow victory over leftist Andres Lopez Obrador, has sparked a number of recent articles comparing it to the United States' 2000 election. These articles tell us much about a portion of the United States' political left, and it is not good.

For example, William Greider writes in the Nation that we should, "keep an open mind about whether López Obrador's charges of election fraud are substantive or, as the media suggest, farfetched." Grieder warns us not to "take at face value what you read in the leading American newspapers about Mexico's cliffhanger election outcome," which he labels as "disgusting." You know, all those right wing papers - Grieder specifically singles out the notoriously right-wing Washington Post and New York Times. And you have to wonder, what is this guy smoking.

Grieder confirms that he has been smoking something when he then claims that, "If the votes had been fairly, thoroughly recounted there in 2000, Gore would be the "next President." That's not what any of the media recounts found, but no matter - perhaps Grieder is in the "reality based community."

Although Grieder cites to no evidence of fraud, other than Obrador's own, unsubstantiated claims, he knows that Obrador is, "right to demand a full accounting of the real results." But how does Grieder know that hasn't happened? Mexico's Federal Election Tribunal, a non-partisan, widely respected body, says it has done exactly that. Teams of European observers found no problems with the elections or the tallying of ballots ("Javier Solana, the European Union's High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, said the EU has every confidence in Mexico's electoral institutions. ") Yet Grieder suggests that if the results are not overturned, "the common people [will] fall short of full justice." In other words, the only results that will suffice for Greider would be ones declaring Obrador the winner.

Meanwhile, in an article in yesterday's Washington Post, Ron Klain, former general counsel to Al Gore, strikes similar themes. In fact, Klain specifically urges Obrador to take "divisive action," and to, "call his supporters to the streets." Most stunningly, Klain calls on Obrador to demand "recounts," "notwithstanding Mexican law," and to "insist that any fair count would show that he is the rightful winner," without regard to whether or not that is true.

This is stunning stuff. While I hate the modern quick step to accusing politicians of all stripes of "fascism" or comparing people to "Hitler" or "Nazis," I simply have to say that, as a simple matter of history, Klain's prescription sounds remarkly like someone advising Benito Mussolini to march on Rome. The law and the facts be damned - Obrador must be declared the winner. Any other result is ipso facto illegitimate.

Klain then goes off into a highly partisan and sometimes counterfactual description of the 2000 election controversy. But what's interesting is that he tells us that Gore resisted advice (Klain's?) to "claim victory," to call on his supporters to engage in "street protests," and to "question the legitimacy" of courts and those counting ballots when they ruled against him. (Some would say that Gore and his supporters did all that - the day after the election, his campaign manager, Bill Daily, famously declared that "if the will of the people is to prevail," Gore would have to be declared the winner - regardless of the actual Florida count, or Florida law; Meanwhile, Jesse Jackson organized street protests.) But what's remarkable is that Klain really thinks that would have worked - and is willing to pay most any price to have made it work.

It seems to me that both Grieder and Klain exhibit a deep problematic aspect that afflicts much of the American left. While purporting to be the party of the people, the left has a definite difficulty with democratic results it doesn't like. Thus it contests elections it loses as "illegitimate," and as justifying what in essence is a counter-legal assumption of power; it relies heavily on courts to implement too many of its policy preferences; and it frankly has difficulty accepting facts that indicate that the "people" have sided with the bad guys. To too many on the American left, the will of the people is not to be determined through constitutional, representational processes, but through a mystical "will of the people" that exists apart from actual election results. This is not healthy at a time when a meaningful alternative to Bush Republicanism is badly needed.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Feingold Misstates the Law, Again

One of the tiring bits of debating campaign finance law is that reformers regularly - and in my opinion intentionally - misstate the law, and their opponents' arguments, to make their political points. So here we have Russ Feingold, writing to the Washington Post, to complain that George Will, in this column, "repeats the false arguments that our reforms banned speech...."

Well, read Will's column. No where does he say that. He does write that the reformers, "enact[ed] special protections against wealthy opponents, and 'blackouts' on much pre-election advertising." And that is true. "Much" is a very important modifier here. Will does not claim that reformers "banned speech," but rather that they banned "much speech." I suppose one can argue about how much constitutes "much," but there can be no argument that McCain-Feingold did, was intended to, and is generally defended by Feingold and others on the grounds that it banned some speech.

Feingold then repeats another increasingly popular canard of the reform community, that McCain-Feingold was all about having everyone "play by the same rules." Or to be precise, he argues that McCain-Feingold merely required, "groups that run ads close to an election ... to play by the same rules that candidates do." In fact, candidates are still treated differently than "groups that run ads close to an election." In fact, the latter are actually treated more favorably in some ways. If Feingold really wanted to suggest Will's column overstated the degree to which McCain-Feingold restricts political speech, why wouldn't he mention that?

The reason is because the reformers know the superficial appeal of saying, "everyone should play by the same rules." But in fact, not everyone plays by the same rules at all. As former Federal Election Commissioner Bradley A. Smith wrote in Roll Call (subscription required), the rules differ for most everyone, including, notably, the press. To take Feingold's example, why should any group that even mentions a candidate in an ad close to an election play by the same rules as candidates? Does a corporation buying an ad saying "call Senator Feingold and urge him to support the President's immigration initiative" really merit the same treatment as a corporation giving money directly to a candidate to do what he wants? Maybe, it's not entirely obvious, is it? But by invoking "same rules," (even though it is not really true) Feingold avoids having to justify why those rules should apply. Moreover, he has a selling point for his bill, even if it is based on misstating what the law actually says.

Thanks to Richard Hasen's Election Law Blog for bringing Feingold's inaccurate letter to my attention.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

North Korea Test-Fires Missiles Capable of Hitting the United States - shouldn't this be getting more attention?

It amazes me how taciturn we are about North Korean missile tests. Here is a relentlessly hostile, Stalinist dictatorship with nuclear weapons, led by a nut case, developing missiles capable of hitting the United States. I don't know what the answer is, but it seems to me it should be dominating the news.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Serious Issue, Frivolous People

I think that one reason the anti-war movement has not taken hold, despite general unpopularity with the war in Iraq, is that most Americans do not see the movement as being serious. Americans are serious about terrorism, even if they oppose the war in Iraq, which polls show most do.

But check out this latest publicity stunt by leading anti-war figures. They - Cindy Sheehan, Dick Gregory (when you're down to Dick Gregory as your "celebrity" participant, you've got problems), a few folks I've never heard of - are now launching a "hunger strike." Or are they?

One participant claims, ""Now it is time to bring the pain and suffering of war home. We are putting our bodies on the line for peace." But then we read, from another hunger striker, "I don't know how long I can fast, but I am making this open-ended." Well what does that mean? Until the craving strikes for a veggie burger?

Then we've got the usual Hollywood "support," including Sean Penn, the very beautiful Susan Sarandon, Danny Glover , and the so on. What are they doing? A"rolling fast." And what is that, you ask? Well, they "pledge to refuse food for at least 24 hours, and then hand over to a comrade." Well, how awful is that? Oooh, that's putting the body on the line, eh? It seems to me it would be more of a sacrifice for people such as Sarandon and Penn, whose careers depend on their physical fitness, to pledge to stuff their faces with Big Macs for 24 hours.

This makes a mockery of people who have truly gone on hunger strikes for things they believe in. Force feedings, and people actually dying of hunger strikes, are not pretty.

Too many prominent Democrats, such as Howard Dean and Al Gore, have identified themselves with these frivolous people, so that Americans, I think, don't really, deep in their gut, trust the Democrats with the war on terror or national security. One of the few who has played this seriously is Hillary Clinton, and it looks like it may cost her a nomination that was once hers for the asking. This is a shame. We need a responsible, serious, opposition party.

Repeat After Me: Corporations Do Not Make Campaign Contributions

No matter how many times you say it, the press always gets it wrong: so repeat after me:

"Corporations are prohibited by law from making campaign contributions. Corporations are prohibited by law from making campaign contributions. Corporations are ..."

What brings this constanly repeated error to mind today is the MSNBC obituary of Enron founder Ken Lay, which claims, "For many years, his corporation was the single biggest contributor to President Bush." In fact, of course, Enron's PAC - which consists of voluntary contributions made by Enron managers, shareholders, and their families, no corporate money - may have contributed up to the legal limits of $5000 per election to Bush, and Enron may have contributed to the Republican Party in the days when those contributions were legal (they are no longer legal, since 2002), but Enron never contributed to the campaign of President Bush or any other Federal campaign. Rather, people who worked for Enron made contributions to President Bush.

This matters, because it gives the wrong impression to the listening/reading public. Almost everybody works somewhere. If you gave $100 to a candidate, would you consider that a contribution by your employer? Most people would not. Doing so allows "reformers" to dramatically increase the "influence" of corporations, and misrepresent the entire system, as it makes most every contribution, by any person, into a "special interest" corporate contribution .

Speaking more frankly, it is a blatant misrepresentation, perpetuated by the reform organizations such as the Center for Responsive Politics - check out this web page (All of the corporations and unions listed are prohibited by law from contributing to candidates or national political parties since 2002, and were prohibited from contributing to candidates prior to 2002.) Doubting Thomases can see this link (check page 72 of the document, 2 U.S.C. Section 441b).

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

If only they knew what we think of them

Apparently, our British friends don't think much of Americans. Why, they think we're a, "cruel, vulgar, arrogant society, riven by class and racism, crime-ridden, obsessed with money and led by an incompetent hypocrite."

Anybody been to Britain lately? Seems like a bit of projection to me.

Me? On this 4th of July, I think we're just great. As for the Brits, well, they need to quit watching the BBC.

  • 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