30 October 2008

The Republican Crack-Up, Continued: Triumph of the Will?

George Will may have another column in him before Election Day, so he may yet bother to make a case against Senator Obama, but in his latest effort the conservative writer plays gravedigger for the Republican party and seems glad to do so. Will has long been a scathing critic of Senator McCain, despising him for advocating campaign-finance reform. If anything, his regard for the Arizonan has sunk since McCain won the nomination, and he has never held Governor Palin in anything close to high regard. In return, he was implicitly included among the cocktail-sipping "Georgetown" pundits sneered at by McCain.

"Did McCain, who seems to think that Palin's never having attended a 'Georgetown cocktail party' is sufficient qualification for the vice presidency, lift an eyebrow when she said that vice-presidents 'are in charge of the United States Senate'?" Will sneers back. This leads to a swipe at Vice-President Cheney, "the foremost practitioner of [the Bush] administration's constitutional carelessness in aggrandizing executive power," for self-servingly spreading confusion about the office. These possibly last days of the "movement" look increasingly like time to settle scores.

It's sort of sad that Will has to return to an issue where McCain has actually taken the more just position, but it's also grimly amusing to see Will take another kick at the would-be reformer when he seems to be down. He notes McCain's complaints against Obama's stupendous fundraising success, specifically the Arizonan's remark that "We're now going to see huge amounts of money coming into political campaigns, and we know history tells us that always leads to scandal." For Will, a famous baseball fan, this is a slow pitch right across the plate:

The inevitable scandal, which supposedly justifies pre-emptive government restrictions on Americans' freedom to fund the dissemination of political ideas they favor, presumably is that Obama will be pressured to give favors to his September givers. The contributions by the new givers that month averaged $86.

Put that way, McCain's longstanding fears about money and influence do seem ridiculous, especially since the mean contribution is probably a good deal lower than $86. But Will continues to miss or chooses to ignore the main point, which isn't McCain's argument against the potentially corrupting influence of large donations, but the fact that fundraising on the Obama scale prices independent candidates even further out of the election "market" and further consolidates the reign of the American Bipolarchy. But since Will endorses the Buckley v. Valeo principle that money equals speech, he would just assume that a poor campaign is already a failed one because it's failed to draw money. He rejects the idea that a contest of ideas requires equal time -- or else he assumes that there are only ever two sides to any political question.

As far as Will is concerned, there can't be too much money in politics. He closes his column by pointing out that Americans have spent less money contributing to politicians than they have on potato chips, as if that statistic is another damning argument against campaign-finance reform. While I can't help but enjoy Will's contempt for Palin, it's almost unfair that, for all that McCain has prostituted himself in this campaign, it's this issue that earns him Will's spit on what may prove to be his political grave.

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