No Means No

March 31, 2002

by John K. Bates

Again, it’s quiz time: What is the greatest single threat to the most cherished American liberty that exists today? Is it:

    A) Usama Bin Laden and his merry little band of terrorists?
    B) The so-called “axis of evil,” consisting of Iran, Iraq, and North Korea?
    C) Our government’s response to the so-called “axis of evil?”
    D) The American Congress and President George W. Bush?

Before you answer, consider the following quote from uber-conservative columnist George F. Will, spoken February 1, 2002 at the Conservative Political Action Conference:

“Campaign Finance Reform is the greatest single threat to the Republic in the past 50 years.”

Still not sure? Then consider Wednesday’s news that President Bush has, with supposed “reservations,” signed the McCain-Feingold-Meehan-Shays-M-o-u-s-e campaign finance reform act of 2002. This horrid law more or less makes it a crime to promote political candidates within 60 days of an election (30 days of a primary). It also bans so-called “soft money” issue advocacy ads. These ads - a direct result of the 1974 campaign finance act that sought to eliminate the corrupting effect of money which supposedly caused the Watergate scandal - are often the only way ordinary citizens can express their voice. (By donating to, say, the National Rifle Association, Joe Sixpack can make his voice against gun control infinitely louder than it gets proselytizing at his local tavern, even after many beers.) These ads are often the only means many other citizens have to hear views not promoted by the mainstream media or the two major political parties. (Gun control is again a good example. Both parties support at least some limitation of guns; without issue advocacy how many Americans would know other viewpoints even exist?) Certainly the political parties - and even more certainly the so-called “mainstream” media - will never let the American people know any viewpoint other than what they desire them to know.

Media control is in fact a huge component of this horrendous bill, and it is the major reason why most major and minor media outlets have for years salivated all over John McCain and his desire to “take big money out of politics.” If “evil” private money is eliminated from campaigns, politicians will have no recourse but to rely (chillingly) on the likes of Peter Jennings, Dan Rather and the New York Times to tell people about the elections and the issues. Removing “big money” is also a tremendous benefit to incumbents (and the sly and sainted Mr. McCain knows this fact damn well, but hypocritically chooses to feign ignorance). Indeed, this bill should have been named the “Incumbent Protection Forever Act of 2002”. If any part of this law stands constitutional muster, it will be nearly impossible for even a well-heeled political newcomer to win a seat in Congress. Incumbent retention rates - over 90% today - will reach nearly 100%, avoiding perfection only with the help of the odd Gary Condit.

Since mentioning evil is temporarily in vogue today, let us for a brief moment catalogue the many, many ways in which this act is fundamentally evil to the precepts of representative governance. It is an evil gift to politicians; the act is nothing more than the abuse of power to perpetuate power. It is an evil usurpation of media power. How can anyone argue that the media - which stands to gain millions of dollars and untold influence from increased reliance on the media as a result of this bill - is an unbiased, uncorrupted reporter of the events of the land? And the bill is an ironically evil gift to the much-maligned “special interest” groups so hated by Mr. McCain. For despite the pious pronouncements of the political class, the bill ensures that certain special interest groups (unions, government employees, and liberals in general) will gain immensely from the silencing of their political opponents. (Unions may not be allowed to run ads, but they will have the benefit of plenty of money to spend on non-advertisement purposes as well as a commanding pulpit for their members.)

Mr. McCain piously stands before the American people and declares that Wednesday was a victory for the “little guy” over the “special interests.” This is at best a lie. At worst, it is totalitarian manipulation of a dumbed-down populace badgered into thinking that only elite bureaucrats and politicians are capable of taking care of them. Evil is in fact the only word that describes this act; no other word can properly describes the absolutely chilling effect it will have on political speech in this country.

The ultimate booby prize for passing this heinous act does not go to Congress, however, or to the media. It does not even go to Mr. McCain, though he should be given a year’s supply of Rice-a-Roni, a case of Turtle Wax, and a copy of the Conservative Truth home game for being runner-up. He has worked very hard, and he has finally succeeded, in taking what was the clear intentions of the Founders of this nation and discarding them as readily as a Clinton campaign promise.

Rather, the person who gets first prize for most disappointing character in this fiasco is President George W. Clinton, er, Bush. If there are any readers out there who still believe this man is a conservative, this writer hopes that they finally see the light. What Bill Clinton could not achieve in eight years, Mr. Bush took just over a year to get done. Campaign finance, we must remember, is not a new issue. In various forms, it has been on and off the radar screen of American politics since Watergate, and definitely since 1992. John McCain has sacrificed the enormous political capital that comes with being a decorated Vietnam veteran in order to badger and hound the American people into accepting his idiotic contention that they are being hoodwinked by “big business.” He tried, and failed, for years to make this ludicrous idea into formal law. He only succeeded after he found a president ultimately too concerned with poll ratings and image to stand up for what is right or what is principled. In President Bush, McCain finally found the perfect foil, the perfect dummy, the perfect media-watching creation he needed to get his pet bill passed.

Not that McCain didn’t have a bit of good fortune. Just as Watergate helped the proponents of government control of election spending in 1974, the Enron debacle helped Mr. McCain and Common Cause and the rest of the lot. And herein lies the key to President Bush’s ultimate failure. Everybody knows that the Bush campaign took millions from Enron. The fact that this knowledge was above the table was a good thing, as it caused people to carefully scrutinize the Bush administration’s dealings with Kenneth Lay’s private piggy bank. When Enron went belly-up, there was no help from the government. The system worked wonderfully; any help offered to Enron would have been (correctly) perceived as a quid pro quo for campaign donations. So Enron - despite millions given to both Republicans and Democrats - foundered on the rocks of bankruptcy. All of Lay’s money and all of Bush’s men could not put the company back together again.

But Bush is in his heart of hearts a political coward. As a result, he was unable to deflect predictable criticism over the Enron failure and Enron’s massive donations. Instead of telling John McCain and the New York Times to stuff it, and instead of making the case that true campaign accountability comes not from government regulation but rather from instant and full disclosure of all donations, he deferred to polls and focus groups. As this president has done from the day he slammed Robert Bork in order to appease northeast liberals, he punted in the direction of “practicality.” He signed a bill that even he admits is flawed. But he signed it because to do otherwise would be to take a political risk that someone, somewhere might not like him and he might not get re-elected. That risk, or so Mr. Bush apparently thinks, is far more dangerous than something as piddling as upholding the Constitution.

In the United States Constitution states thus: “Before he enter(s) on the execution of his office, he shall take the following oath or affirmation: ‘I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.’” In following this oath, President Bush had no choice but to defend the Constitution and to veto this bill. As a supposed conservative, he should have done so with a particular relish. President Bush instead forsook his oath and consulted polls and “triangulated” in a performance even Mr. Clinton would admire. Let it be said now and forever more: This so-called conservative President is a muddling-middle, poll-watching moderate who cares not about principle or about the country. He cares about his political future and nothing more. And the country is now far worse off for his efforts.

As to the quiz: Those readers who answered “C” get a gold star from the writer; they are obviously frequent readers of this space. But the correct answer is “D.” Congress and President Bush know no shame and will spare no freedom in retaining their power, even if in the retention of that power they trample on the freedom that the Founders of this country thought so precious that they listed it first among equals. The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law…restricting the freedom of speech.” Someone ought to tell the idiots running things in Washington that no in fact means no.


John K. Bates is a part-time freelance writer who works in the energy engineering field and lives in the Denver, Colorado area. He enjoys many outdoor pursuits and the company of his family of three cats. His columns can also be seen on

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