Category Archives: Electoral Politics

You’ve got to pick a side

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Note:  Since I originally posted, this commentary has been published on The Daily Caller.  See http://dailycaller.com/2016/05/30/youve-got-to-pick-a-side/

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As I’ve told my son’s little league squad, you win as a team and you lose as a team.  If your pitcher is missing the strike zone, you don’t take your bat and ball and go home.  That will not get you to the championship.

And yet that is what a lot of conservatives are trying to do these days.

Donald Trump is now the Republican pitcher.  He is the GOP standard bearer.  Whether or not, in Paul Ryan’s words, he lives up to our standards.

It is true that Trump breaks with conservative orthodoxy on a number of issues. He embraces protectionism on trade. He refuses to address entitlement reform.  He does not say mean things about Planned Parenthood.

He also rejects traditional GOP foreign policy tenets even as he advocates for renewed strength abroad.  He disavows the war in Iraq and other neoconservative projects to implant Western democracy in places that have never known it.  He questions the relevance and viability of NATO.  He second-guesses strategic aid to countries that refuse to foot the bill.

Maybe some of Trump’s loose policy pronouncements are ill informed or shortsighted.  If so, and if he makes it to the White House, maybe he will change course.  It would not be the first time he has abandoned positions.  In fact, it is Trump’s lack of adherence to principle (not to mention a mixed history of supporting Democrats and their agenda) that has driven so many of the GOP establishment and pundit class to pledge allegiance to #NeverTrump.

Unwavering conservative principle girded the Ted Cruz campaign.  Consider where that got him.

Some of the fiercest rivals and critics of Donald Trump have been quickest to reverse course.  Last year they took turns deriding Trump as a “narcissist egomaniac” (Bobby Jindal), “like being shot” (Lindsay Graham), and as a “barking carnival act” and “cancer” (Rick Perry).  Now each has climbed aboard the Trump train.

For this, some members of the conservative punditocracy label them pathetic traitors.

What is their alternative plan?  William Kristol pines on about drafting a true conservative third party candidate.  Peter Wehner blithely promises to vote for someone else or abstain.

Mitt Romney and the Bush brothers literally commit to stay home, refusing to pay tribute to the presumptive nominee by attending the nominating convention in Cleveland.

This crowd needs to wise up.  Isn’t anything other than an embrace of Trump de facto a vote for Clinton?

Exactly.  And some implacable critics like Robert Kagan are openly planning to join the other team.

Seriously?  How can anyone who opposes the heavy-handed, growth-depressing, world-destabilizing policies of the Obama era do anything other than work to block a third Obama term with Clinton at the helm?

Many Republicans have personal animus for Clinton.  They detest the way she holds herself above the law and makes blatantly false statements to avoid accountability.  They resent the way her ruthless quest for power and wealth has trampled on helpless civilians, from the women her husband abused to the families of the Benghazi terror victims. They cringe at the sound of her voice.

But Clinton could be the most honest, gracious, and likeable public figure, and she would still usher in another span of liberal governance that undermines liberty, squelches growth, and damages American global interests.

At the end of the day, I think that conservative hold-outs simply cannot countenance the idea of a crass person like Donald Trump headlining the party of the conservatives.  He does not fit their ideals. He does not fit the model. They do not want to settle until they meet Mr. Right.

George Will counsels conservatives to fight Trump in the general election.  Then, after a single Clinton term, the voters will see the error of their ways and come around to a principled conservative that meets Will’s standards.

How bad do things need to get before Will and others recognize that change is needed now?

Trump wasn’t my first choice either. I got over it.  The benefits of a Trump presidency far outweigh the potential flaws.  On the critical issues of Supreme Court nominations, tax and regulatory policy, healthcare reform, and homeland security, Trump is squarely better for conservatives than Clinton could ever be.

Points where I strongly disagree with Trump – trade policy and entitlement reform come to mind – are tough pills to swallow.  But again, I can’t see a Clinton White House doing any better.

Electing Trump will undoubtedly ruffle feathers in the office of diplomatic protocol.  We will see behavior and comments that we would never expect from a commander-in-chief.

Well okay.  But like I said, Trump’s on the mound now.  And I want to go to the World Series.

 

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Winners capture minds and hearts

imagesA funny thing happened last month while the media obsessed over presidential primary horse races:  President Obama’s approval ratings ticked up.  The latest Real Clear Politics average of polls now shows virtual parity between people who approve of the president’s overall performance and those who don’t.  This after over a year of approval deficits ranging from 5% to 8%.

As far as I can tell, nothing good has happened in 2016 to justify Americans raising their appreciation for our commander-in-chief.  To the contrary, economic and foreign policy troubles continue to weigh on the minds of voters.  By margins of 2-1, they continue to see things in our country “off on the wrong track”.

So what gives?  Why might people be softening their views of the president even as the race heats up to take his job?

On the left, the president’s approval ratings have remained consistently high, just as they remain consistently low on the right.  What’s changed is the view of independent voters.  The primary campaign must be having an impact on them.

Notwithstanding Ted Cruz’s theory about the missing conservative voter, it’s fairly well-established that these independent votes swing elections.  And while it doesn’t determine outcomes itself, the approval rating of the incumbent president is a fairly good indicator of his party’s chances in the election that follows.

Herein lies the quandary for true believers.  Independent voters make the difference, and yet they don’t line up neatly with the ideology of either “movement conservatives” or the “progressive left”.

Donald Trump generates mass appeal because he speaks to the anxieties and aspirations of people who resent the government’s failures — not those who find salvation in lower marginal tax rates.  Hillary Clinton does throw a few leftist barbs at Bernie Sanders for his more measured views of gun control.  By and large, though, while Sanders calls for a revolution, Clinton wraps herself in virtues of the status quo.

So as partisans descend into petty attacks and ideological purity tests, the president’s even-keeled demeanor begins to resonate again with the mushy middle.

The people do want change.  Most of us just won’t run off a cliff with a pied piper who divides us into camps of us and them.  Especially if too many of us find ourselves in the camp of “them”.

Assuming she dodges the criminal investigations surrounding her mishandling of classified information while serving as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton still has a good chance to win both the Democratic primary and the general election.  Yes, people may find her untrustworthy and uninspiring, but at the end of the day she projects an image of stability that will ultimately win out over rabble rousing by the likes of Sanders on the left, Cruz on the right, and Trump in the populist middle.

You can see the outlines of Clinton’s stay-the-course strategy taking foot in her stump speeches and among her media advocates.  Supporters tout the perceived successes of the Obama administration:  ending wars, disarming Iran, increasing health care coverage, reining in Wall Street.

For a challenger to knock Clinton off her game, it will take more than piling on her negatives.  These are too easily dismissed as rants of the Fox News-talk radio industrial complex — partisan and self-serving, rather than thoughtful and substantive.

Here is where I take issue with the Trump phenomenon and ill-considered comparisons to the campaigns of Ronald Reagan.

Like Trump, President Reagan connected with the middle class.  He was an iconoclastic entertainer who mastered the media channels of his generation.

Unlike Trump, however, Reagan disarmed his adversaries and appealed to the better natures of us all.  More important, he upended the status quo by touching the minds as well as the hearts of the people.

To dislodge the liberal establishment from the levers of power in Washington, a conservative candidate must use more than sloganeering.  He or she must dismantle the fallacies of Obama era success by picking them off one by one with an unapologetic but rational and good humored argument.

Don’t give us platitudes.  Explain the reasons in a way everyone can understand.

Why does disengagement in the Middle East make us less safe at home?  Why does government interference undermine our prosperity?  Our health care?  Our ability to make ends meet?  Spell it out in plain English and don’t make us turn against our neighbors to pursue a better life for ourselves and our loved ones.

For this reason I applaud Rich Lowry for engineering National Review’s online symposium Conservatives against Trump.  To its credit, NRO assembled a diverse collection of voices, ranging from talk-radio mavericks (Glenn Beck), to neoconservative defenders of the establishment (William Kristol), to heroes of the tea party grassroots (Erick Erickson).  Each took a measured and thoughtful shot at the reality-show blowhard — his lack of principle, his authoritarian impulses, his betrayal of conservative norms.  Anyone taking the time to absorb this multifaceted critique would see virtue in backing another horse.

But pundits do not turn elections.  The candidates themselves must embrace a rational and uplifting message to match their bouts of righteous indignation.  This is why I was rooting for Carly Fiorina early on, but now her time has passed.  Of the candidates with a realistic pathway to the nomination, Marco Rubio is the only one who fits the bill.  If Republicans hope to win back the White House, they better fall in line.

 

 

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Common sense defense

Carson Black conservatives get under the skin of most liberal commentators, and Ben Carson’s steady rise in the presidential polls have been driving the pundits outright batty.  Detractors have seized upon Carson’s comments relating to Obamacare, same-sex marriage, and most recently about guns and self-defense.

In the latest provocation, Carson told CNN he thinks “the likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed… there is a reason these dictatorial people take guns first.”

Put aside that a certain class of opinion makers thinks it offensive and indefensibly hyperbolic to make references to Naziism in the context of any contemporary policy debate.  On the face of the issue, critics seem to reject a self-evident observation.  As Dennis Prager offers on TownHall: “No normal person thinks that armed Jews would have prevented the Holocaust (nor did Carson make such a claim). But no normal person should think that it would have not have been a good thing if many European Jews had weapons. The hallowed Warsaw Ghetto Uprising began with the Jews in the Ghetto possessing a total of 10 handguns. Imagine if they had a thousand.”  The Federalist’s Daniel Payne adds detail how the Nazi regime engaged in systematic confiscation of weapons from political opponents, including Jews in particular, and maintained strict gun control as a means to dominate civil society.

Opponents of gun rights are not interested in delving into these historical realities because they want to deny the nexus between gun ownership and self-defense.  In their view, the availability of guns leads to more, not less, criminal violence, not to mention accidental injuries and death.  If only we had more “common sense” gun control, they assure us, the body count of innocents would plummet.

But what is common sense, anyway?  A feel-good compulsion to “do something” when tragedy strikes?  Or is it more sensible to check emotions at the door and look at the empirical evidence about gun violence?

There is a lot of data bandied about by both sides of the issue, and it is hard for any fair-minded person to say the data is conclusive.  What is indisputable is that violent crime has been nosediving for years, even as Americans have more guns than ever before.  Proponents of “concealed-carry” laws think this fact tells the whole story, but it is impossible to prove causation.  In other words, you just cannot prove that more generous gun rights will further reduce crime.

Of course, by that count, it is even more difficult to defend the merits of gun control.  Here is where the policy “laboratory” of our federal system offers insights to anyone who cares to look.  Cities like Chicago, with some of the most stringent restrictions, have some of the worse records on gun violence.  Even Harvard scholars cannot seem to agree whether gun control reduces gun violence or not.

Our nation is based on individual liberty.  Like a doctor whose first duty is to do no harm, our government must not take freedom from the people without just cause.  The burden of proof is on the state, not the citizen.

Mass shootings have grabbed the headlines and prompted President Obama and his fellow Democrats to demand new laws to tighten allegedly insufficient controls on access to guns.  Nowhere has anyone demonstrated that new background checks, assault rifle bans, or magazine restrictions — let alone manufacturer liability — would have prevented the massacres at Roseburg, Aurora, or Newtown.  So why create laws that at best do nothing and at worst reduce the capacity of good guys with guns?  Just to “do something” while enriching the trial attorney lobby?

Jewish critics of Ben Carson, self-declared defenders of sacred Holocaust cows, might want to ask themselves why Israel, which is facing the most acute urban violence in years, has just loosened its civilian permit laws to allow more people to carry concealed firearms.  Time and again over past several weeks, Israelis have taken down terrorist attackers using weapons carried by bystanders or by the victims themselves.  In this case the argument is not academic.  It truly is a matter of life and death.

The liberal political elite will not admit it, but their actions speak louder than words.  They walk among armed security guards while disparaging the rights of common citizens to arm themselves.  Just like they send their kids to private schools while battling school choice for the urban poor.  Just like they fly on private jets while denigrating the fossil fuels that power the working man’s pickup.

Supporters of Ben Carson have had their fill of such hypocrisy.  They are placing their trust in common sense.

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Why I’m rooting for Carly

Carly-Fiorina-Republican-Debate-GOP In the rough and tumble Republican nomination battle, a key dynamic has emerged.  The primary electorate, particularly the activist base, is hungry for a political outsider, someone it hopes can shake up the status quo in Washington.  It attaches momentum to unconventional candidates who can make their cases most effectively under the glare of the media spotlight.  This dynamic will persist until the last man (or woman) is standing.

And for this reason, Carly Fiorina is the Great GOP Hope.

Like current front-runners Donald Trump and Ben Carson, Fiorina has never been elected to office or otherwise served in a government job.  Similarly, she has found a way to stir the base with crisp, memorable sound-bites on the stump.  Unlike the other two outsider candidates, however, Fiorina has demonstrated policy depth and has confidently articulated her positions with intelligence and clarity.  She works hard and has thought seriously about the issues.  Her preparation shows.

Fiorina’s performance during and after the first two candidate debates has catapulted her from relative obscurity to the top tier of contenders.  The RealClearPolitics average of national polls over the last two weeks now has her ranked third, just after Trump and Carson.

Begrudging commentators have dismissed Fiorina’s rise as another infatuation with the latest shiny object, predicting her lack of political experience and campaign resources will cause her to collapse like 2012 flavors-of-the-month (such as Herman Cain).

Here’s why Fiorina is different.

First of all, she packs a rhetorical punch.  She doesn’t just parrot the requisite talking points for a receptive audience.  She brings the house down with razor-sharp attack lines which address the point at hand even as they paint a broader vision for conservative governance.

For example, here’s how Fiorina tackled the thorny issue of Iran during the CNN debate:

You haven’t heard a plan about Iran from any politician up here.  Here is my plan. On day one I will make two phone calls, the first to my good friend to Bibi Netanyahu to reassure him that we will stand with the state of Israel. The second to the Supreme Leader to tell him that unless and until he opens every military and every nuclear facility to real anytime, anywhere inspections by our people, not his, we the United States of America will make it as difficult as possible to move money around the global financial system.  We can do that.  We don’t need anyone’s cooperation to do it. And every ally and adversary we have in the world will know that the United States of America is back in the leadership business, which is how we must stand with allies.

And then on the funding of Planned Parenthood:

I dare, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes. Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain. This is about the character of our nation, and if we will not stand up and force President Obama to veto this bill, shame on us.

Even liberals — especially liberal women, who feel compelled to confront her policy positions, are at great pains to resist the appeal of her powerful stage presence.

Secondly, Fiorina promotes conservative principles with more than empty platitudes.  Whether it’s reasserting American strength abroad, defending the sanctity of life, or embracing a pro-growth economic policy, she makes her point and backs it up with specific ideas.  A critic might not agree with her conclusions but he would be hard pressed to refute her arguments on the spot, while millions of viewers were tuning in.

At the same time, Fiorina doesn’t throw out base-pleasing proclamations that would paint her into a corner.  Ted Cruz might also be a good debater, but unlike Fiorina, he has alienated the majority of the electorate, burning bridges with personal attacks and futile parliamentary maneuvers, which do little other than burnish his image with the hard-right.

Lastly, Fiorina readily dodges the bean-balls that typically trip up GOP candidates.  As an accomplished female executive, wife, stepmother, and breast cancer survivor, she gives no quarter the tiresome “war on women” diatribes coming from the politically correct feminist left.  As a wealthy person, she makes no apologies for her success, which she earned through individual labor and merit, something Democratic front-runner Hilary Clinton can scarcely claim.

As could be expected, the projectiles of critics have flown with Fiorina’s ascent in the polls.  Her controversial tenure as the CEO of Hewlett-Packard featured deal-making and boardroom drama, but little definitive success.  She outsourced jobs and cut thousands of employees from the payroll.  And when the board finally took her job away, she exited with a rich pay package.  She hasn’t been hired by another big company since.

Fiorina has her counterpoints to all of these knocks, and she seems well-prepared to push back against the kind of attacks which doomed her 2010 campaign for Senate in California.  Given the well-calibrated but fearless response to shots fired by Donald Trump, it’s easy to imagine her dispensing with Democratic critiques of her business record and pivoting quickly to the substance of the 2016 campaign.

Compared to Clinton, Fiorina is an icon of personal accountability and achievement.  She may have ruffled feathers climbing the corporate ladder, but she did it on her own.  Compared to most of her Republican rivals (excepting possibly Cruz and Marco Rubio), she speaks more clearly, more confidently, and more consistently on the stump and on the screen.  Compared to the other front-runners, she is the most presidential.

Money can’t buy these qualities and it won’t.  Just look at the middling Jeb Bush campaign.  But money will help a candidate compete if she otherwise has the right stuff.  That’s why I’m hoping big dollars start to flow her way.

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A sudden case of rule of law

dt_131216_cherry_picking_fruit_250x188 The executive branch of the U.S. Government — yes, the same one administered by President Obama — appears to be looking closely into the conduct of Democratic presidential nominee-in-waiting Hillary Clinton.

Following a request in late July by inspectors general for the State Department and the intelligence agencies, the FBI has begun investigating the potential mishandling of classified information by Clinton during her tenure as Secretary of State.  Despite her best efforts to ignore, deny, deflect, misdirect, and redirect criticism over her decision to conduct official business through a private email server, and then to scrub the server clean, the wheels of justice have started to turn on Clinton.

Perhaps this development seems reasonable.  After all, if an official who is charged with safeguarding our nation’s most sensitive communications circumvents policies and procedures designed to protect them, then something should be done about it.

Then again, the agency that can do something is the Department of Justice.  Under President Obama, this agency does not have a track record of objectivity.  Consider the lack of accountability for the Operation Fast and Furious gun-running debacle, the IRS targeting of conservative advocacy groups, the self-dealing and gross malfeasance by VA bureaucrats, and the strong-arming of investigative journalists.  While a few political appointees have been eased out of their jobs under pressure from lawmakers, DOJ has not pursued charges against any ringleaders of the scandals.  If there still are investigations underway, DOJ is setting new standards for foot-dragging.  When is the last time we heard from the White House about any of these shameful episodes?

It’s not as if DOJ couldn’t move quickly if it wanted to.  Take the events in Ferguson, MO and Baltimore over the past year.  When white police officers harmed unarmed blacks, the government found a way to move federal investigations — and their resolutions — to the front of the queue.

When it suits a political agenda, the White House is all in.  In 2009, President Obama appointed a special prosecutor to investigate possible abuses by intelligence agencies in the wake of 9/11.  None of the alleged abuses occurred on his watch, so there was little political risk to the move (even if he later elected to quash any charges to avoid friction with the intelligence apparatus).

But when it comes to wrongdoing within his own administration, the president demurs.  In the case of IRS misconduct, he flatly dismissed the idea of a special prosecutor. “I think we’re going to be able to figure out exactly what happened, who was involved, what went wrong,” he told the press, “and we’re going to be able to implement steps to fix it.”  More than two years later, we are no closer to resolving the issue or restoring confidence in IRS impartiality.

From the very start, this administration has used a cherry-picker approach to law enforcement.  The letter of the law matters little when it comes to our immigration or drug statutes.  States are free to legislate in direct opposition to federal prohibitions against the sale of marijuana and cities are free to shield illegal aliens from ICE detention, all without fear of reprisal from the feds.  Despite laws on the books he once claimed tied his hands, President Obama issued executive orders blocking authorities from deporting whole classes of undocumented immigrants.   Defenders called it “prosecutorial discretion.”   Of course, when Arizona or Texas employed measures to beef up inadequate border security, no such discretion could be found.  The Obama administration came down hard.

All of which makes the probe into Clinton’s email practices curious.  Why would the president green-light an investigation of his would-be successor if he has the power to quash, or at least to slow-walk it?  Some attribute the decision to the independence and integrity of his new attorney general.  Others see Frank Underwood-style maneuvers behind-the-scenes to engineer a Joe Biden candidacy.  There may be a bit of truth in both explanations, but my bet is simply that there is fire behind the smoke.  Hillary has tested the limits of our collective tolerance for the Clinton way of doing business.  Even President Obama lacks the stomach to run interference on this one.

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Who are you fighting for?

061315_clinton_rally2_ap1_1160x629

Hillary Clinton officially officially launched her presidential campaign last weekend.

After plenty of analysis and calibration since her unofficial official launch via video recording in April, the Democratic frontrunner delivered an address on New York’s Roosevelt Island setting forth the theme of her campaign.  “I’m not running for some Americans, but for all Americans,” she assured the crowd. “I’ll wage and win four fights for you” — most of all a populist economic program to uplift struggling poor and middle class Americans.

The speech went on to recite a litany of liberal policy prescriptions, what commentators have interpreted as a nod to the Democratic Party’s increasingly vocal progressive wing.

If the fighter proposition represents Hillary’s long-awaited “reason to run,” then it’s worth asking how well the progressive agenda has delivered for its purported beneficiaries.

In recent months, progressives have gone to bat for raising the minimum wage, denounced proactive policing methods, and blocked the president’s bid for Trade Promotion Authority.  For his part, President Obama has taken the Supreme Court to task for threatening the viability of Obamacare.

All these positions the left portrays as salves for the downtrodden.  But who pays the bill for all this medicine?

Let’s start with the minimum wage.  It sounds good that workers should receive more pay for their labors.  Economists debate the macroeconomic impact, but one thing is for sure:  raising the wage destroys jobs at the lowest end of the wage scale.  Employers of hourly wage earners make do with fewer workers, reduce plans to expand headcount, or go out of business altogether.  Those workers remaining on the payroll get a boost, but those shut out of the workforce do worse.  What’s better for workers — low wages or no wages?

Liberal advocates (who seemingly have never had to make a payroll) like to imagine that mandated wage increases make for better, more productive employees, which compensates for the increased costs.  But if the benefits were so self-evidently compelling, it would not take the force of law to generate an increase.  Costco and other large corporations can absorb the impact, so they are happy to gain a competitive advantage while they play the role of good corporate citizens.  In contrast, small businesses, the true engines of job growth, have tighter margins and less room to give.

How about proactive policing, such as New York’s supposedly oppressive “stop-and-frisk” policies?  Under Mayor de Blasio, who pulled the plug on these measures, criminal shootings and homicides are on the rise.  The so-called “Ferguson Effect” seems to be causing police to shy away from aggressive tactics as they fear mistakes that could jeopardize their freedom, let alone their careers.  The changes are emboldening criminal elements throughout our nation’s biggest cities, destroying any hope of economic development and revival.  It’s not affecting affluent white suburbs.  Poor, minority communities of the inner city are paying the price.

Free trade?  Progressives lambast the supposed horrors trade inflicts on working men and women.  But nothing has lifted more people out of poverty than the economic growth driven by the free exchange of goods and services across borders.  Would the left be so parochial as to say job security measures stop at the water’s edge?  Putting aside the universal benefits of economic growth, free trade has a direct impact on the cost of consumer goods.  Who is most sensitive to fluctuations in the price of food, clothing, and other staples?  The people who shop at Whole Foods?  More like those roaming the aisles at Wal-Mart.

And then there’s the showpiece of the Obama presidency, the Affordable Care Act.  Far from bending the cost curve down, the ACA, with its assortment of taxes, regulations, and mandates, has made health care less affordable not more.  Yes, the most impoverished uninsured have gained premium support or access to Medicaid, but at a cost of diminished benefits and increased out-of-pocket costs for the vast majority of the population.  The result hardly comports with a commitment to fight “for all Americans.”

The list goes on and on.  Liberal environmental decrees, labor regulations, and energy policies all sound good from the ivory tower, but cut deep in the real world where people struggle to pay the bills.  In their fervor to coerce societal change, the left rarely takes account of the damage left behind.  Nothing does more good for more Americans than economic growth, and the surest way to help the most vulnerable in our society is to unshackle the economy.

Now that’s something worth fighting for.

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Let the money flow

money-pipe-end-the-fed

For as long as people have been running for office, critics have bemoaned the corrosive influence of money in politics. For years these self-appointed reformers have pressed the strong arm of government to limit who can spend what to advance a political objective.

One of the bigger reform movements of the past generation culminated in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 or “BCRA.” Spearheaded by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Russ Feingold (D-WI), BCRA (also known as “McCain-Feingold”) tightened constraints on spending, especially outside of formal campaign infrastructure. McCain made the reform effort a signature issue and has worn it as a badge of honor ever since.

A number of legal challenges have since chipped away at the restrictions of BCRA, leaving McCain and other advocates increasingly demoralized. In particular, ruling in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court struck down certain limits on spending by corporations and unions. The 2010 decision helped spawn the proliferation of so-called “SuperPAC” organizations, which can raise unlimited funds for the purposes of making independent political expenditures.

McCain was dumbfounded. “[T]he system is broken,” he griped to NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “I predict to you there will be scandals.”

And scandals there will surely be, as there have been in nearly in every political administration.

But is the free flow of money really to blame? How did it become an article of faith that more spending makes our political culture dirtier than before?

Put aside that every attempt to regulate political spending turns into a game of “whack-a-mole.” Campaign professionals always find a way to skirt the rules and satisfy the demand to spend money.

Perhaps it’s worth considering instead whether our founders had a good idea when they enshrined the right of free expression in the Constitution. What is a greater menace to our democratic culture: individuals and organizations competing freely with resources of their own choosing, or a bureaucracy enforcing arbitrary boundaries with criminal penalties?

Would-be protectors of our society fret that President Obama raised $1.1 billion to get reelected in 2012, and that leading candidates for 2016 will go even higher. Total political spending in 2012 probably topped $5.8 billion. This may seem like a lot until you realize that the automotive industry spent over $14 billion advertising in the U.S. last year alone. Shouldn’t the selection of our political leaders and public policy warrant marketing dollars at least as sizeable as those for the newest Toyota Tundra?

What campaign finance warriors really object to is not the volume of money in politics. What really grates at them is the ability of wealthy donors to spend their own money as they see fit.

Launching his campaign for president late last month, the self-declared socialist Bernie Sanders summed it up well. “The country belongs to all of us and not just the billionaire class,” he told a meeting of reporters and editors at Bloomberg. It doesn’t seem to matter that politically active billionaires span the political spectrum, including Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers on the right, and Tom Steyer and George Soros on the left.

When you pick apart the money in politics critique, it sounds a lot like the misguided FCC policy calling for “Equal Time” in broadcasting. In today’s multifaceted, highly competitive and fragmented news content marketplace, it doesn’t really matter if a broadcaster favors a political faction. Disaffected citizens can turn to alternative networks, talk radio, online publishers, social media, and more.

Likewise, it doesn’t silence debate when a billionaire backs a pet cause or candidate. How many millions did Michael Bloomberg spend fruitlessly to back gun control candidates in Colorado? How much did Sheldon Adelson’s multimillion dollar support for Newt Gingrich derail Mitt Romney’s campaign for the GOP presidential nomination? What about Tom Steyer’s NextGen Climate efforts in the 2014 mid-term election campaign?

The simple truth is that big spending adds color, content, and energy to our political culture. It opens doors to political messages and candidates that might otherwise go unnoticed. When 20 or more candidates are legitimately competing for the GOP nomination in 2016, we can thank generous wealthy donors and their SuperPACs for our wide array of choices. If there is any hope of a candidate rising to challenge Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side, it will also depend on a few big-spending sponsors.

A free society depends on more liberty not less. Those who would handcuff political speech in the name of a level playing field are no different than those who push for taxes and subsidies to advance a favored industry. The only ones who benefit from government limits on campaign spending are incumbents and entrenched special interests. As long as funding is transparent, we should let it flow.

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