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Freedom and the Public Good

Campaign finance reform and the loss of liberty.

by James Leroy Wilson
February 20, 2002

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Freedom and the Public Good_James Leroy Wilson-Campaign finance reform and the loss of liberty. Last year, the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill passed the Senate but was blocked in the House of Representatives. Now, the House passed the similar Shays-Meehan bill, and it is up to the Senate to protect our freedom to criticize the government and persuade voters during election time.

This disgraceful turn of events, instigated by the collapse of Enron Corp., is only the logical extension of the mindset that private rights and personal freedoms must be checked, balanced, limited, and subservient to the "public good."

Whereas libertarians and many conservatives view the protection of personal rights and freedoms as the very definition of the public good, those who seek a broader meaning must necessarily undermine the rights of the individual. By that I mean, the state claims the very life of the individual and only gives back to the individual as much freedom the state thinks is tolerable. Instead of individuals granting the government only such powers as they deem necessary for their own protection, the philosophy today is that the individual should give up freedoms and income to serve the public, that is, the the sum total of the moral ideals, economic welfare, and convenience of other people.

This can be justified on several grounds: national greatness, social justice, stability, compassion. The underlying assumption is that poor choices of individuals can undermine the health and strength of the republic, and if our nation decays and becomes so vulnerable, what good will your guns and property rights do you then, Mr. Right-winger? From fatty foods to poor investments to the environment, the government has the obligation to make sure that, as individuals exercise their "freedom" to take a path to hell, they don't drag the entire nation with them.

Such thinking conveniently forgets that the risks and damage of poor choices in the private sector can't approach the damage that the poor choices of government does. For poor choices in the free market are punished and learned from, as the collapse of Enron itself shows. The scandal was not the mismanagement of the company, for which bankruptcy is the just penalty, but the apparent criminal activity - fraud - by senior executives. Most of the nations of the world have even worse criminals in the corridors of political power. Which brings up the question: Would you rather have greedy predators make and lose their fortunes in the free market and be punished by the law, or would you rather make government so powerful as to make it their most tempting avenue for their evil goals? Would you rather have Ken Lays as CEO's or Robert Mugabes as President?

But as it is now, entire generations are raised to venerate the principles of the Founders of the republic, and then without any sense of irony to embrace policies that violate those very principles. Advocates of more government are unfailingly called "public interest groups" and advocates of less government "special interests." The income from the work I do, and the return on the risky investments I make - the government takes what it wants first and "lets" me have the rest. Debates over the intent of the Second Amendment's right to keep and bear arms ignore the truth that denying an individual right to protect oneself, the right to survive, is itself a denial of the right to life.

And now we have come to a point where many people, as individuals or groups, may not be allowed to campaign on behalf of a candidate for public office, for fear of undue influence. The very right to speak may be limited because the appearance of impropriety is deemed a greater threat to the republic than allowing activists equal rights to the airwaves to speak their piece. To buy commercial time to criticize an elected officer holder will be considered a crime.

No persons' life, and the honest works and thoughts directed toward ones own happiness and survival should be conditional. Envy or moral dislike of another people's choices does not justify making their lives and freedoms subservient to one's own whims and interests. If it is wrong for a person to own another person, then it is wrong for a group of people, even if the group is called "government," to own a person. To allow the government to censor one's opinions, especially when they are critical of the government, is just the latest of our country's abandonment of the principles of the Declaration of Independence.

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