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Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Sen. Feingold Wants to Know: Are You "Legitimate?" Why liberals must choose between free speech or Big Government

If you are, then the Wisconsin Democrat and co-author with Sen. John McCain, R-AZ of the campaign finance reform law forever linked to the duo, may deign to allow you to continue exercising your First Amendment right of free speech and free press. But if you aren't, you are, shall we say, outta luck? Fair game for the FEC to regulate? A hapless victim of political correctness?

Patterico's Pontifications slices and dices this latest Feingold statement on the prospect of the FEC regulating political speech on the Internet. When it was announced, Patterico warned that the Supreme Court's McConnell v FEC decision in December 2002 upholding McCain-Feingold meant the end of free speech(so did yours truly and a bunch of other folks as well).

Despite Feingold's transparent attempt to say it ain't so, the truth of those warnings is being realized before our very eyes as the FEC puts the final touches on its upcoming proposed rule on blogs and political speech. Patterico is not reassured by Feingold. I'm not reassured. Neither is anybody else who knows what happens when the camel gets its nose under the tent.

By the way, Feingold's statement is revealing in another important aspect. The Wisconsin Democrat says he learned something important about America and blogs when he alone voted against the Patriot Act in 2001:

"That experience taught me a lot, but one thing I learned for certain is that millions of ordinary citizens support efforts to make sure the government doesn't try to take more power than it needs. Resisting overreaching by the federal government is appropriate and, yes, even patriotic. I feel very strongly about this, and have made constitutional issues in general, and First Amendment issues in particular, one of the central focuses of my work in the U.S. Senate."

This captures the horns of the dilemma liberals put themselves on by insisting on an absolute reading of [some] civil liberties while at the same time continually arming government with more authority, more regulatory power and a wider range of responsibilities. The two thrusts are fundamentally anti-thetical. You cannot preserve civil liberties while making government constantly grow.

Campaign finance reform is the perfect illustration. The aim of the effort is to prevent the appearance of corruption created by the campaign contributions of special interests. In order to prevent that appearance, it is necessary at a minimum to limit the political speech rights of those special interests by barring them from some communication channels during key periods of campaigns.

But doing that only serves to make the unregulated outlets more attractive and sooner or later those who the regulators are seeking to regulate find ways of expressing themselves via other communication channels. Like the Internet and blogs. So the inevitable next step is for the regulators to seek to regulate the newly attractive communications channels so that the problem of the appearance of corruption isn't allowed to reappear. And so on and so on and so on.

Sooner or later, liberals like Feingold, McCain and the MSM folks who supported campaign finance reform will have to make a choice - are they for the First Amendment or are they for campaign finance reform. They cannot have both.