Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Ayn Rand, the novelist-philosopher had a deft explanation for why wealthy people who, presumably, would be against governmental intrusion into the economy and civil society out of self-interest, often were at the forefront of promoting such schemes. They wanted, Rand wrote, " ...an Aristocracy of Pull" where the well-born and the politically connected parvenu alike could make common cause to institutionalize their comparative advantages. The Supreme Court, reflecting the attitudes our elite law schools, has been increasingly friendly to oligarchical policies , as exemplified by the Kelo and McConnell cases, that cement insider positions and hedge against the rest of us. The issue is not Left or Right but In or Out - and most of us by definition are " Out" in terms of power.

And the Beltway political class aims to keep it that way. This trend is being driven by liberal Democrats in Congress and through various foundations and activist groups but they are being helped in no small measure by Republicans like John McCain and wealthy, GOP-supporting, corporations.

Bruce Kesler, who is dedicated to citizen activism, free speech and the spread of democracy, has pointed attention to this OpinionJournal piece " Shut-Up They Explained" by Brian C. Anderson that delves into the attempt to silence and regulate the blogosphere and citizen political activism in time for the next election cycle - if not 2006, then certainly by 2008, ratcheting back internet-based free speech by the unwashed by increments until elections become the scripted shadowbox domain of the insiders once again:

"Campaign-finance reform has a squeaky-clean image, but the dirty truth is that this speech-throttling legislation is partly the result of a hoax perpetrated by a handful of liberal foundations, led by the venerable Pew Charitable Trusts. New York Post reporter Ryan Sager exposed the scam when he got hold of a 2004 videotape of former Pew official Sean Treglia telling a roomful of journalists and professors how Pew and other foundations spent years bankrolling various experts, ostensibly independent nonprofits (including the Center for Public Integrity and Democracy 21), and media outlets (NPR got $1.2 million for "news coverage of financial influence in political decision-making")--all aimed at fooling Washington into thinking that Americans were clamoring for reform, when in truth there was little public pressure to "clean up the system." "The target group for all this activity was 535 people in Washington," said Mr. Treglia matter-of-factly, referring to Congress. "The idea was to create an impression that a mass movement was afoot--that everywhere they looked, in academic institutions, in the business community, in religious groups, in ethnic groups, everywhere, people were talking about reform.

...Campaign-finance reform now has the blogosphere in its crosshairs. When the Federal Election Commission wrote specific rules in 2002 to implement McCain-Feingold, it voted 4-2 to exempt the Web. After all, observed the majority of three Republicans and one Democrat (the agency divides its seats evenly between the two parties), Congress didn't list the Internet among the "public communications"--everything from television to roadside billboards--that the FEC should regulate. Further, "the Internet is virtually a limitless resource, where the speech of one person does not interfere with the speech of anyone else," reasoned Republican commissioner Michael Toner. "Whereas campaign finance regulation is meant to ensure that money in politics does not corrupt candidates or officeholders, or create the appearance thereof, such rationales cannot plausibly be applied to the Internet, where on-line activists can communicate about politics with millions of people at little or no cost.

But when the chief House architects of campaign-finance reform, joined bySens. McCain and Russ Feingold, sued--claiming that the Internet was one big "loophole" that allowed big money to keep on corrupting--a federal judge agreed, ordering the FEC to clamp down on Web politics. Then-commissioner Bradley Smith and the two other Republicans on the FEC couldn't persuade their Democratic colleagues to vote to appeal."

Read the whole thing.

Drafts that have emerged of proposed Federal regs for blogs [ Ed. note: " The Congress Shall Make No Law...] appear to be vague, highly arbitrary, convoluted and expensive to contest if a blogger is accused of expressing a political opinion -err...I mean wrongdoing. Initiating a complaint against a blogger, however groundless, would be simple and free. It would also attempt to give the discredited and widely distrusted mainstream media special legal prerogatives that do not exist in the Constitution. Or, as Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote:

“The Court has not yet squarely resolved whether the Press Clause confers upon the ‘institutional press’ any freedom from government restraint not enjoyed by all others.”

In my preemptive campaign of civil disobedience I hearby declare " Zenpundit" to officially be a newsmagazine and a journal of scholarly opinion. And as such, I shall report on the news and run op-eds all the way to election day.


This post was helpfully picked up by Topix.net. Thanks, guys !
so i'm thinking an Alito judgeship would only add to the established v. disestablished vibe...
Hi Sean,

Probably. Hard to say for sure though - once they get on the Court Justices can pretty much do as they please.

Here's why this is happening. At one time Federal judgeships were primarily plums for Presidents to hand out to Senators and justiceships tended to be a super-version of this practice, either to elevate a crony of the POTUS ( Truman/Vinson)or to please a faction ( Eisenhower/ Warren). You did end up with a pretty good judicial diversity of life experience, social class, education and geography - though not in terms of race, ethnicity or gender.

Well, the acute Left-Right politicization of judicial appointments has had an unintended effect - homogenization.

Now we get appointees only from an insular set of elite schools - Souter may have been the last non-traditional nominee - who share much of the same intellectual and cultural worldview despite differences in political philosophy, race, gender. They are also much brighter on average and therefore a good deal better at rationalizing class-based self-aggrandizing rulings that might have caused previous generations of justices some embarrassment.
"And the Beltway political class aims to keep it that way. This trend is being driven by liberal Democrats in Congress and through various foundations and activist groups but they are being helped in no small measure by Republicans like John McCain and wealthy, GOP-supporting, corporations."

To conflate oligarchical policies with liberal Democrats just proves to me that you see all issues through Republican rose colored glasses. Your assertion that the liberal Democrats would compromise the only medium in which they can claim to have an equal voice with the Republicans is beyond ridiculous. The "scholarly" distinction in your "journal of scholarly opinion" implies that objective reasoning is weighted more heavily then subjective opinionating. How about taking off those partisan glasses and showing some "scholarly" proof of a claim that is obviously all opinion - an opinion that just happens to support your political world view.
James...thought we'd lost you.

First, obviously this is a blog. I'm makimg an absurd declaration in anticipation of expected exemptions for " established" media to McCain-Feingold based FEC absurd regulations.

Secondly, oligarchical in the sense of an unrepresentative elite is sematically accurate. Read the article and look at the money trail. I agree with you that some Liberal Democrats would take a hit from these regs as they would affect Atrios, KOS, Moveon.org etc. - but those are *insurgent*, *outsider* forces that threaten the insider control of the Democratic Party.

I don't want the government fining KOS or Duncan Black for what they write 60 days before an election either.
This reminds me of Plato's Republic, because we appear to be following the outline he gave over two thousand years ago. It is peculiar. He was not entirely right, I think, but generally right. I'm still not decided on whether we are in the stage of Platonic oligarchy or in the democracy he outlined or somewhere in between; at the above link, I mentioned "neo-oligarchs" within a democracy, who arise to combat the too-liberal libertine freedoms which democrats demand within a democracy. Interestingly enough, as you implied Mark some freedom-loving democrats, seeing at last the role of money/possession for ensuring freedom, may ultimately return to oligarchical tendencies.

Plato suggested that warring factions within a democracy might lead to tyranny, especially when a "protector" (and ultimate tyrant) appears. I don't think that such an embodiment would necessarily come from today's Democratic Party or today's Republican Party: he/she could come from either or a third. GWB, who styles himself the protector of America, certainly appears to be following the outline Plato gave; but, a Democrat could as easily arise who would claim status as protector of American liberties. Bother. In specific reference to the subject of your post, I would point out the fact that Plato thought the tyrant, whoever he be, would shed his "protector" aspect after disassembling the very structures of a democratic state: the son becomes the parricide of the system which gave birth to him.

As for SCOTUS, the issue of increasing life spans is playing a very large role in the homogenization of judicial policies. In fact, I'm beginning to wonder if the "blueprint for the future" designed by our forebears was not designed to handle the fast-paced nature of our modern world, on the basis of increasing life spans and the very quick transmission of information (media, economic, educational, etc., "information.") I.e., in a fast-paced society, in which quick judgment and quick action become even more necessary -- look at the war on terror, for instance -- and in which such action may lead to revolutionary or profound restructuring of a society, the eventual balancing of principles and policies which our constitutional system would ensure over a long period may not be enough of a safeguard against tyranny.

I stumbled onto an interesting consideration of these things written almost three hundred years ago, even before America secured its independence:

"Unlimited power is so wild and monstrous a thing, that however natural it be to desire it, it is as natural to oppose it; nor ought it to be trusted with any mortal man, be his intentions ever so upright....

It is the nature of power to be ever encroaching, and converting every extraordinary power, granted at particular times, and upon particular occasions, into an ordinary power, to be used at all times, and when there is no occasion; nor does it ever part willingly with any advantage. From this spirit it is, that occasional commissions have grown sometimes perpetual; that three years have been improved into seven, and one into twenty; and that when the people have done with their magistrates, their magistrates will not have done with the people."
"Plato suggested that warring factions within a democracy might lead to tyranny, especially when a "protector" (and ultimate tyrant) appears"

Well, Plato saw such things in his lifetime in his own city and elsewhere in Greece. Democratic Athens had its admirers of Oligarchy and even a few who spoke well of the Great King. The Athenians also gave great power into the hands of Pericles, Nicias and Alcibiades - though in the case of Nicias it was more to corner him than anything else.

Plato - and you may not agree with me here - reminds me of men like John Stuart Mill and George Kennan in their later years. There's a sneaking admiration for authoritarian order dressed up in the clothes of his republic
Mark, I tend to believe that most people -- a large majority, in fact -- have "a sneaking admiration for authoritarian order." Given the chance, many people assume authority quite easily; and even those who don't, admire and respect that authority enough to submit to it without much protest. (Any protest signals a sneaking suspicion of their personal authority in judging matters...)

But on Plato: actually, he didn't much like the democracies of his time. But he didn't like tyrants, either. Although my memory's a bit hazy, I think that his Republic was more or less an attempt at the establishment of an order which gained its authority more from reason than irrationality -- broadly speaking.

But we have latent supporters of just such an authoritarianism in our contemporary world: people who spend much effort devising blueprints for better futures. Some of these senators and politicians in the bipartisan oligarchy may well believe that they are attempt to safeguard liberty or build a better future, just as the Framers and American Revolutionaries thought they were doing...
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