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The Justice of Citizens United

In National Review Kevin Williamson writes The Book Burners. Citizens United, he reminds us, was about much more than big money in politics.  It was about denying the government the right to ban books and media.  It was about the upholding of our most important Constitutional right.

Lost in all of the deeply stupid rhetoric (“Money isn’t speech!”) surrounding the Citizens United case is the fundamental issue that was at question, to wit whether the federal government can censor films of which it disapproves. The film in question was called Hillary: The Movie, and it was very critical of Mrs. Clinton while she was seeking the Democratic nomination in 2008. The government attempted to forbid the distribution of the film on the grounds that it was critical of a political figure, which was at the time impermissible, under what is cynically known as “campaign finance” law, unless done in strict compliance with narrow and restrictive federal regulations, and then only at certain times. The Supreme Court rightly threw the law behind that out as rankly unconstitutional censorship of political speech.

What those beef-witted partisans who abuse the word “liberal” fail to appreciate is that the principle behind the so-called campaign-finance laws they support is an open-ended power of federal censorship of all political speech, journalism, literature, films, television, radio, and other communication. Some of the more sinister forces on the left understand that perfectly well, and the glee with which Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders present the proposal of silencing their political critics is both astounding and horrifying.

During the Citizens United arguments, Justice Samuel Alito asked Malcolm Stewart, the deputy solicitor general defending the government’s censorship, whether the law would empower Congress to ban books. Stewart affirmed that books too must be subject to “electioneering communication restrictions.” And thus do our so-called liberals become book-burners.  That may be of some interest to organizations far outside of the world of conservative activism — donor-supported feminist publishing houses, say, or grant-funded environmentalist documentarians. The leader of the United States Senate is a conservative from Kentucky, and the leader of the United States House of Representatives is a conservative from Wisconsin. The Left would do well to consider just whom it would be empowering to establish a censorship code.  Republicans cannot be trusted with that power. Neither can Democrats. Neither can Libertarians, Greens, Freemasons, Elks, Methodists, or other bad hombres — or even good hombres, absolute power corrupting absolutely and all that.

Also in National Review, Mona Charen illuminates the importance of Citizens United in Fear-Mongering about Citizens United Undermines Faith in Elections

Clinton suggests that the decision prevents Americans from knowing who is funding political activity. Citizens United did nothing of the kind. It simply ratified the concept that groups of Americans, whether they come together as labor unions, advocacy groups, or corporations of various kinds, do not lose their right to speak when they join together. Under campaign-finance laws, groups like Citizens United or People for the American Way were prohibited from running ads for or against candidates at any time, and McCain/Feingold extended this prohibition to prevent such groups from even mentioning a candidate in a broadcast ad within 60 days of a general election. The Supreme Court held that such political speech was the essence of the First Amendment.

Contra the Democrats, there is no secret about who is spending what on American elections. Candidates, parties, traditional PACs, and super PACs must all disclose their spending and their donors. When Democrats speak of “dark money” they are creating a bogeyman. Here’s what they’re referring to: When non-profits like Planned Parenthood, trade associations, or the NRA, i.e. groups that devote more than 50 percent of their activities to non-political matters, spend money on political messaging, they do not have to disclose their donors (except funds earmarked for that particular ad). As former SEC chairman Brad Smith explains, this represents a small fraction of total campaign spending. In 2012, it was 4.3 percent. In 2016, it’s coming it at under 3 percent. We know how much they spend, because they must report it. We know what they represent, or in the case of a group like Americans for Prosperity, we can easily find out. And nothing in the Citizens United decision altered disclosure requirements.

Citizens United upheld the most cherished right protected by the Constitution. The disclosure requirements in current law are more extensive than ever before in American history. Moreover, there are some pitfalls in total disclosure, such as exposing those with unpopular viewpoints to harassment. Democrats obscure these essential girders of free speech and demonize the case to suggest that a wealthy, obscure elite has hijacked the political system.

Donald Trump again signaled his contempt for democratic norms by declining to say he’d respect the results of the election. But Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, who stoke mistrust by falsely spinning conspiracy theories of illegitimate, dark forces controlling our system are also to blame for the parlous state of social trust in America.


At least when Donald Trump expresses lack of faith in the election process, he does not propose to gut the Bill of Rights as a solution.

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The Trump Bubble


From Jonah Goldberg in National Review, Bursting ‘Beltway Bubbles’:

If all you heard in his answer was the box-checking boilerplate and not the needy cries of his id, then you’re in a bubble. If all you saw at the Al Smith Dinner was a man speaking truth to power, you’re in a bubble. If you nod along when he says “Nobody has done more for civil rights than I have” or “Nobody respects women more than I do” you live in a bubble (I have a theory that he paid a staffer to change his name to Know Body, so he can say that stuff with a straight face). If you really buy the idea that the polls are faked and the election is rigged, you’re in a bubble. If you think that his huge rallies are all the proof you need that he’s going to be swept into power, you live in a bubble. Lots of people go to the opera. Lots of people attend Nickelback concerts. Huge crowds attend WrestleMania. Even all together, that’s not a winning coalition in a presidential race.

And if you believe that if only the couple dozen — at most — “Never Trump” writers and activists suddenly endorsed Donald Trump he would get a boost of 4–5 percent in the polls, you live in a bubble. A friend of mine insisted to me the other day that if the Never Trumpers, women, and Republican friendly independents rallied to Trump he’d be in the lead. That’s true. It’s also true that between me and Charles Koch, our combined assets are in excess of $40 billion.

The ire aimed at Never Trump folks is understandable. But that ire isn’t an argument for why reality is wrong. The belief that the supposed traitors are to blame isn’t a rational belief, it is an irrational passion that only seems rational deep inside a bubble. And shouting “You just don’t get it!” won’t change the fact that the people shouting are the ones who just don’t get it.


The soundness of one’s ideas can be gauged by the tolerance for dissent or difference of opinion.  The Trumpers who have demonized every Republican who has actually won an election and actually governed are now intolerant of any conservative who does not support their savior.  A basic understanding of political reality in American politics is that winning requires assembling a coalition of views and interests that can win.  This coalition is different from the one required to win a primary.

Trump has offended almost every possible group except his hard core base, including critical elements from his own party.  In this campaign and in this election cycle, and especially against the incredibly unpopular Hillary Clinton,  any credible Republican candidate should be twenty points ahead.  Any loss by Trump, no matter how small should be viewed as a humiliation. And there is no one to blame but himself and those in the Trump bubble.

Those who understand his shortcomings and support him only because Hillary is so detestable should take corrective action against their party who let this disaster happen.

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Inflationary Wealth Transfers

Kevin Williamson’s Welcome to the Paradise of the Real was written over two years ago and I still refer it to readers.Sneaky Inflation is equal to that piece in bringing sound economic thought to bear on current issues with an engaging style.  Both pieces are in National Review.

An excerpt from Sneaky Inflation:

Pouring an extra $1 trillion into health-care subsidies will not make medical care less expensive; it probably will end up making it more expensive. If you really wanted to bring down the cost of medical care, there are more-direct ways: You could increase the supply of providers by allowing non-physician specialists such as nurses to provide a wider array of services; you could lower taxes on medical devices rather than raising them, as Obama does; you could use immigration law and, if necessary, expedited licensure to add 5 million doctors to the market in a very short period of time. Similar approaches could provide savings in education and housing. We don’t do that, in part because very influential people have a financial stake in high prices for medicine, education, and housing. The National Rifle Association, which is widely regarded as a one of the capital’s most fearsome advocacy organizations, doesn’t spend a tenth of what the National Association of Realtors spends on lobbying.

What this is, in reality, is a very large wealth-transfer program. Government-school employees are the single most important Democratic interest group, and university employees are up there near the top, too. That is why every attempt to “make college affordable for American families” consists of transferring vast sums of money from American families to college administrators. Driving up housing prices transfers wealth from younger, poorer people looking to buy homes to older, wealthier people who own them. The same principle is at work in health care and health insurance.


Redistribution may be more tolerable if it actually went to the needy.

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Bureaucratic Opportunism

from Holman Jenkins, Jr. at The Wall Street Journal, Regulation vs. The American People

Mr. Obama wanted to be a “transformational” president like Reagan, but transformational presidents both lead and listen to the public, and they get their mandate through the ballot box. Unilateral regulation is not the way to a meaningful legacy. It invariably degenerates into omnidirectional bureaucratic opportunism, which is the real legacy of Mr. Obama’s “frustration” with the American people.

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Ideas Still Matter

At Stumbling on the Truth Cliff Asness points to the opportunities Trump missed at the first debate inBusinessman, Defend Thyself:

Much has been made of “fact checking” this election cycle. Not enough focus has been put on “idea checking.” Unfortunately for free-market conservatives and libertarians, we can’t count on the Republican nominee to articulate why progressive economic ideas are so often so wrong. There were many frustrating examples in the first debate of Donald Trump failing even to challenge Hillary Clinton’s obvious conceptual whoppers. Worse, when Trump did attempt a defense, he often cast free enterprise and business in a negative light. Trump simply can’t—or won’t, because it’s not what he truly believes—combat the falsehoods of progressivism, or honestly and skillfully defend free enterprise and business in general.

Throughout the debate, Clinton advanced numerous “four Pinocchio” economic stories. Trump repeatedly failed to call her on them, or to represent the free market, or even the business community, remotely well. Every time this type of chance is missed, more voters are lost to the falsehoods of ever-bigger government, anti-business hysteria, and class warfare. That we have a Democratic nominee who is overtly hostile to economic liberty is, sadly, not surprising. That we have a Republican nominee who is incapable or unwilling to argue for freedom and the prosperity it brings is something worse.


By being either unable or unwilling to stand up for the ideas of the Constitution or free market capitalism, Trump allowed the bad ideas of Clinton to go unanswered, giving them credence.  This inability to articulate principles and understanding has cost him the support of the thinkers on the right and in the middle, and ultimately the election.

Ideas do matter much more than the populist rhetoric and reality show theatrics.