What If McCain-Feingold Had Been the Law of the Land in Earlier Times?
Campaign reform advocates like Carol Darr, director of the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet, fear the mischief anonymous bloggers could get by with during election campaigns if the Federal Election Commission opts not to regulate political speech on the Internet.
But the potential harm warned of today by Darr and others who want the FEC to regulate bloggers is nothing compared to what occurred more than 200 years ago in what is arguably the most successful anonymous conspiracy to shape public opinion in our nation's history.
Just consider: These connivers sought nothing less than to subvert the federal government but they hid behind a non de plume that gave no hints about who they were or anything else about their characters, positions in society or professions. They disclosed nothing about their professional or personal relationships, nothing about who signed their paychecks, nothing about where they lived and nothing about any special interests they served.
Not only did they obscure the truth about themselves behind an impenetrable shield of anonymity, they contrived to be heard in every state of the nation by somehow persuading those who controlled America's main communication lines to spread their subversion, thus making them partners in the plot.
As a result, this anonymous conspiracy touched every American and was able to seduce many to support their plan in public forums held in towns and cities across the land. Among those thus fooled were legions of public officials, lawyers, bankers, tradesmen, farmers and mechanics. Truly, this conspiracy reached into the furthest corners of the nation.
But the anonymous plotters were opposed by some in numerous states. Large assemblies were called to discuss and analyze the ideas put forward by these anonymous advocates of a revolutionary change in our government. Often those assemblies would break out in fierce debate, spreading divisiveness, undermining longheld friendships and loyalties and fueling new dissafections everywhere.
Nevertheless, the plotters refused to give up and kept pushing and pushing until the whole nation was convulsed. Looking back today, we should not be surprised that they were such skilled propagandists. But at the time, no one knew one of the plotters came from the most aristocratic and privileged element of our society, while another had deep ties to special interests seeking only to make money. A third plotter practiced international law and cultivated ties to some of the most repressive regimes of Europe.
Truly, their conspiracy was wildly successful. Admittedly, it was a very close thing but just enough of their fellow citizens went along with them to force the central government to fall. In its place was erected a completely new regime, one previously conceived in secret by a small group of similarly positioned men who often looked to the plotters for leadership.
Eventually, the plotters' identifies became known. In fact, once their plan was adopted and they felt sufficiently entrenched, they stepped forward, removed their collective mask and became strong men in the new ruling order.
Their ideas and influence remain so powerful that every American today is governed by them. Their slogan - Novus Ordo Seclorum - is printed on every dollar bill printed by the U.S. Treasury.
You see, their names were Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay. They were phampleteers - the bloggers of their day - and they wrote under the collective pseudonym of "Publius" to insure that their arguments for adoption of the proposed Constitution would not be obscured by their names and reputations.
Their works were later collected and published as "The Federalist Papers," an extraordinary book that is found in every public library in America and indeed in many around the world.
Thankfully, the old Articles of Confederation provided for no government commission in 1787 with the power to regulate political speech then as the FEC does today and as the reformers want it to do even more so tomorrow. Were it otherwise, Publius would today simply be the name of a long-forgotten Roman playwright.