Bill Clinton's Keystone Kampaigners continue to be paraded before Fred Thompson's Inquisition, and if ever I had any doubt that American politics is basically comic opera without punch lines, the campaign-finance hearings would have resolved it before you could say John Huang.

In the meantime, the McCain-Feingold bill, now being pitched as Better Than Nothing, continues to lack sufficient support to be enacted into law. Quite apart from Trent Lott's blatant effort to make the bill unpalatable to Democrats by tacking on an anti-labor provision, there is the sudden Republican concern for the First Amendment, which boils down to "How dare they try to suppress free speech for the wealthy?"

But McCain-Feingold won't save the day, either. After watching seas of Democrats and the occasional piece of Republican jetsam float past the committee, I'm persuaded that there isn't a rule you could make that someone wouldn't try to break — while, of course, maintaining a belief in the absence of controlling legal authority. The stakes are just too high.

The last time I took on this question, about a year ago, I decided that the best way out of this particular quagmire was to shed most of the pecuniary requirements, retaining only donor-disclosure rules, and, in an effort to wring some last meager public service out of the broadcast spectrum, to prohibit all political advertising, for candidates or for issues, anywhere within that spectrum. The more I think about this, the better I like it. Don't expect to see it within my lifetime.

The Vent

8 October 1997

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 Copyright © 1997 by Charles G. Hill