Cohen-Head: Defending Big Money in Politics

Power Line has often taken note of the mixed bag of opinions that come from the Washington Post’s Richard Cohen.  He frequently departs from the liberal reservation, but usually leaves a marker somewhere in his column that he’s still part of the team.  Today he leaves the reservation completely, without even so much as a token gesture to leftist orthodoxy.

Today’s Cohen column dissents from the liberal script that there’s “too much money in politics,” and he defends independent expenditures from the Super-PACs.  And he recalls an episode famous in liberal lore—the 1968 insurgent campaign of Eugene McCarthy—that was made possible only by the kind of campaign contributions subsequently made illegal and that “reformers” wish to keep illegal today.  Liberal “reformers” always change the subject when you bring up the McCarthy example.  Here’s Cohen:

Back in 1967, a small group of men gave McCarthy the wherewithal to challenge a sitting president of the United States. The money enabled McCarthy to swiftly set up a New Hampshire operation and — lo and behold — he got 42 percent of the popular vote, an astounding figure. Johnson was rocked. Four days later, Robert F. Kennedy, who at first had declined to do what McCarthy did, jumped in himself. By the end of March 1968, Johnson was on TV, announcing he would not seek a second term.

My guess is that a lot of the people who decry what [Sheldon] Adelson has done [for Newt Gingrich through a Super-PAC] loved what Stein, Peretz and the others did. My guess is that they cheered Johnson’s defeat because they loathed the Vietnam War and wanted it ended. My guess is that while they pooh-pooh the argument that money is speech, they cannot deny that when McCarthy talked — when he had the cash for TV time or to set up storefront headquarters — that was political speech at the highest decibel.

Cohen concludes:

Sheldon Adelson is not my type of guy. I don’t like his politics. But he has no less right to try his own hand at history than did that band of rich men who were convinced the war was a travesty-tragedy — and they were right. Since 1968, my views have changed on many matters. But my bottom line remains a fervent belief in the beauty and utility of free speech and of the widest exchange of ideas. I am comfortable with dirty politics. I fear living with less free speech.

And so Cohen comes down at exactly the same point as George Will (pass out the smelling salts in the Post’s editorial offices!!), who remarked on ABC’s This Week Sunday:

[C]ampaign reformers constantly argue that, a) there’s too much political speech in this country, b) they know the right amount and, c) they want to criminalize speech in excess of that.

(By the way, while we’re on the subject of ABC’s This Week, can we give out a hooray for the departure of the egregious Christiane Amanpour?  She made the show nearly unwatchable.  Even George Stepalloverus is better than her.)

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