Jewish World Review July 25, 2000 / 22 Tamuz, 5760
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- DAVID LETTERMAN, host of the "Late Show," wants to have a big debate between the two major presidential candidates. Al Gore has accepted the challenge. George W. Bush hasn't responded yet, so Letterman is turning up the heat.
"Every night, if he doesn't show up for the debate, every night we'll say miserable, rotten, awful things about him," warned Letterman Wednesday night. If Bush doesn't jump through Letterman's hoops, the "Late Show" host concluded, "We'll make up vicious, ugly lies" about him.
Letterman is entitled to have fun at the expense of politicians. He's free to beat the guacamole out of the Texas governor or anybody else for that matter. But now ask yourself, would it be fair if David Letterman had the only TV show in America? What if there were no television commercials or opposing programs?
Imagine: Letterman could mock and ridicule endlessly without a single dissenting voice. The bucktoothed, overly ironic Hoosier could, night after night, say George Bush kicks puppies, eats kittens and likes to dress like Janet Reno in his spare time. Wouldn't Bush, or any politician, feel unbearable pressure to give into Letterman's demands rather than face his razzing?
That's pretty much what advocates of campaign finance "reform" propose. The central idea behind all "reform" proposals is that the government must regulate, i.e. ration, the amount of money politicians can spend for their messages.
Cut off the money and the only people free to talk about politics are the folks who control the media. In this example, if a candidate wants to buy a commercial denying that he's a puppy-kicker or simply to assert that he's for tax cuts, government officials would decide how many commercials he can buy, when he can buy them and where he can air them.
Now, if you live in a world where David Letterman has the only television show and he thinks you're the greatest thing since hair transplants, you might not worry that the government decides who gets to say what and when. And, similarly, if you're a liberal politician living in a world where the leading newspapers, magazines, news networks as well as almost all movie and sitcom producers are all overwhelmingly liberal too, you might not care that the opposition is getting the shaft. In both cases you don't mind muzzling the other guy, so long as the dominant media is on your side.
But if you're, say, a pro-life, religious, Southern conservative you won't find much in the mainstream media that's to your liking. When was the last time you saw a born-again pro-lifer win an argument on NBC's "Must See TV"?
Under most campaign finance "reforms," the elite media would dominate even more. And, just as Letterman jokes about saying "miserable, rotten, awful things" about George Bush, the elite media would be even more free to dictate the terms of public debate by making politicians sign pledges, agree to litmus tests and address only the issues they deem to be important.
In a speech delivered on Thursday in Washington, D.C., at the free-market Cato Institute, House Majority Whip Tom Delay became just about the only national politician in America to talk sense on this issue, and he therefore will become even more unpopular with the establishment.
"The media's newfound enthusiasm for sharp restrictions on speech is baffling. It is nothing less than a total reversal, an absolute abandonment of what had, until very recently, been a core principle," Delay said.
The leading "reform" proposals "would do much more to augment the authority of established opinion elites than to empower the politically dispossessed," he said. "Reform" goes a long way to making The New York Times the final arbiter of right and wrong in America while doing little to "open up" the system. It's argued that people like Delay are opposed to "reform" because it's bad for Republicans. Well, so what?
We all appreciate our rights more when we are at the losing end of government abuse or overreach. The value of private property rights becomes clear when the government tries to put a highway through your living room; freedom of religion comes into sharper focus when the state bans your ability to pray; and freedom of speech becomes an imperative when the government tries to gag you.
Remember: Self-interest is the lifeblood of politics; affirmative action, tax policy, Social Security - you name it - all boil down to arguments about what is in the interest of one group or another. The idea that self-interest should not play a role in one of the most fundamental arguments in modern life, is not merely strange, it's dumb.
By Mr. Delay's count, "eight of the 10 largest daily newspapers in the United States back limits on purely political speech." There's almost not a single policy area where The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times aren't much closer to the Democrats than the Republicans (and on many issues the Democrats are to their right).
Is it shocking that Republicans aren't more eager to make it even more difficult for them to get a word in edgewise? Is it shocking that Democrats think it's a great idea to make it harder for Republicans to get a word in edgewise? I'm sure if we asked Letterman what his self-interested motivations are, he'd be honest about his desire for laughs and ratings. It'd be nice to get that kind of honesty out of the pro-"reform"