Friday, June 20, 2008

Barack Obama and Monica Lewinsky Change Democrats' Minds

Call Senator Barack Obama the new Monica Lewinsky. How so? Both Obama and Lewinsky have demonstrated the ability to change Democrats' minds on what once were rock-solid beliefs that conflicted with the U.S. Constitution.

As those alive back then will recall, the Democrats in the 1970s and 1980s were gung-ho as to the supposed need for an office of independent counsel to investigate wrongdoing in the White House. President Richard Nixon's fiasco in Watergate convinced the political opposition that no President could be trusted to appoint a special prosecutor in the Department of Justice when an Executive Branch official was charged with illegal activity. Those lonely voices who argued that an unaccountable prosecutor outside the Attorney General's control violated the constitutional separation of powers were ignored by the Democrats, who were convinced that the need for "independent" investigations trumped whatever the Constitution might have to say about the matter.

Then, of course, entered Monica Lewinsky, who convinced the cigar-chomping Democratic lawmakers that maybe having a prosecutor free to do whatever he wanted to dig up dirt on the President and others in the White House might not be such a good thing after all. The Democrats next started sounding just like their "favorite" Justice, Antonin Scalia, who years before had argued in a famous dissent that the independent counsel statute was fatally flawed and in violation of the separation of powers.

Another pet issue for the Democrats back in the 1970s, and continuing through the 1990s, was the need for public financing of political campaigns. Supposedly public money would clean up everything that was wrong in politics because big-bad private money would no longer be used as much by candidates. Yesterday, however, Senator Barack Obama pulled a Monica Lewinsky on public financing. As The New York Times reports, in the wake of Obama's decision "to become the first presidential candidate to forgo public money, the system is facing the most critical threat to its survival." The NYT concludes: "Mr. Obama’s decision to opt out of public financing — along with the ability of the Internet to let candidates raise large sums of money from small donors — may do more to shatter the system than all of the loopholes it has spawned."

Public financing of campaigns is as constitutionally dubious as the independent counsel statute was. Whereas the independent counsel violated the Constitution by undermining Executive power under Article II, public financing similarly runs afoul of constitutional guarantees by forcing taxpayers to subsidize candidates' political speech in contravention of those taxpayers' First Amendment rights. Apparently the Democrats finally see it that way too. Maybe this is the "change" in the Constitution that Obama's legal scholar, Eddie Veder of Pearl Jam, had in mind.

No comments: