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Jewish World Review March 21, 2001/ 26 Adar 5761

Wesley Pruden

Wes Pruden
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Consumer Reports

Why can't senators be nice to Mom? -- IF money is the mother's milk of politics, as everyone in Washington says it is, you might think John McCain and Russ Feingold would be a little nicer to Mom.

The Senate, reluctant as ever to pop a sweat, took up debate yesterday on the celebrated campaign-finance bill that would do more than fundamentally change the way the nation pays for federal elections. John McCain and Russ Feingold would determine who gets to speak up during election campaigns, and it might be me but it wouldn't be you.

The only people left standing in the wake of McCain-Feingold would be the well-upholstered candidates, ambitious plutocrats and pundits with a cable-TV slot or who buy ink by the barrel. We'll tell you what you need to know about the candidates and the issues. All you'll have to do is sit down and shut up. Why do you think the princelings of the media are so in love with John McCain?

Mr. McCain, opening the debate, urged his colleagues to "take a risk for our country." He might have been (but wasn't) talking about the risks to the Constitution, particularly that amendment that everybody pretends to love (but often gets in the way of those who know what's best for the rest of us). Then the senator tried a little flattery. "I think the good men and women I am privileged to serve with are perfectly capable of surprising a skeptical public, and maybe ourselves, by taking on this challenge to the honor of the profession." (Profession?)

Earlier, leading a tail of pliable reporters and photographers, the two senators marched to the Republican and Democratic headquarters to proclaim that it was time to liberate the pols from the "tyranny" of the money politics that bought them to power.

Mr. McCain insists he sees a "60 percent chance" of passage, but he doesn't say it with the demeanor of a man with such encouraging odds on his side. Mr. Feingold conceded that it would not be easy to keep his Democratic colleagues in line now that they'll have to cast an authentic up-or-down vote for the first time. "When you take $500 million out of the system," he said, "every senator is going to at least blink."

The senators feel so oppressed by the demands of work and worry — nobody has suffered like they have since Georgia abolished the chain gang — that Mr. Feingold thinks some of them will be tempted to break their chains. Even now he can hear the faint refrain of the battle cry of freedom. Every member of Congress, he said, is "pushed and shoved" by party leaders to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for the party. "It's time to end the tyranny of having to raise this money."

One man who can't wait for the serious food fight to begin — he's holding his biscuits in reserve for the moment —is Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who has held the fort almost alone while McCain fever raged unabated in the back of the press bus (and on front pages and in the high-decibel sound bites). He predicts "fascinating" floor action.

The hero may turn out to be Chuck Hagel, the Republican senator from Nebraska, who, like his good friend John McCain, is also a hero of the Vietnam War. His substitute legislation, backed by the White House, would limit but not prohibit free speech by limiting but not prohibiting campaign contributions.

The Hagel version would limit to $120,000 donations to political parties over a two-year election cycle, and increase the limits on contributions by individuals to federal, state and local candidates. He takes pains to insist that he drew up his plan to protect the Constitution, not to help President Bush at the expense of his friend John McCain. "The Shakespearean drama and intrigue of me somehow being the point of the spear being used by George Bush to get to John McCain is just a complete fabrication," he says.

Mr. Hagel's nod to constitutional nicety has softened Democratic enthusiasm for McCain-Feingold, but nothing has softened this enthusiasm quite like the final figures, just in, for who gave what to whom for the 2000 campaigns.

Republicans took in $244 million, and that's a lot, but the Democrats now find they took in $243 million. Messrs. McCain and Feingold, the Democrats have discovered, have quit preachin' and gone to meddlin'.

By insisting that big labor, as well as big business, be cut out of the game President Bush has driven a stake through the heart of McCain-Feingold, even if, as is likely, the Supreme Court will nail the coffin lid down tight. Over the past six months, 10 U.S. district and appellate courts have struck down attempts to chip and whittle at the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech — even the free speech that gives the chattering class severe heartburn.

JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.


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01/31/01: Serving fried crow in the press mess
01/26/01: The gathering storm over Jesse Jackson
01/23/01: A graceless getaway, a graceful beginning
01/19/01: Once more to wave the bloody shirt
01/16/01: Bring on the lions, the clowns are ready
01/12/01: The dastardly plot to restore slavery
01/10/01: Mr. Lott's generosity to the Dems
01/05/01: Looking to the past for a bad example
01/03/01: A modest proposal for Arkansas folk
12/19/00: The reflexive sneer at George W. Bush
12/15/00: Taking inspiration from John Birch
12/12/00: It's time to raise high Florida's standards
12/08/00: A President Bush, and about time, too
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11/28/00: Cry no tears for Al, lawyers are the losers
11/21/00: The useful loathing of America's sons
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11/14/00: Something murky in the twilight zone

11/10/00: Something sinister in Palm Beach

11/07/00: Low days in the life of the ruptured duck

11/06/00: A little race baiting in the final hours

11/01/00: Creator gets a hard time on the hustings

10/27/00: The sorcerer rides to rescue his apprentice

10/25/00: The founding father with a story to tell

10/23/00: A lonely passion for religious rights

10/16/00: Spending blood on the folly of fools

10/11/00: A big night for the embellisher-in-chief

10/06/00: AlGore's black problem

10/04/00: In headlong pursuit of the bigot vote

10/02/00: A modest proposal for Rick Lazio

09/27/00: When folks at home give up on a scamp

09/25/00: Gore plot exposed! The secret minutes

09/18/00: Playing politics with the blood supply

09/14/00: Al sets out to find his 'tolerance level'

09/12/00: When it's time for a thumb in the eye

09/07/00: Making a daughter a campaign asset

09/04/00: A footnote to the lie: How he beats the rap

08/30/00: Unbearable lightness of a cyberjournal

08/21/00: Clinton chickens on AlGore's roost

08/16/00: The long goodbye to California's cash

08/09/00: Innocence by proxy is a risky scheme

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08/02/00: When it gets hard not to get a little giddy

07/31/00: George W.'s legions of summer soldiers

07/26/00: He's set a surprise --- or a trap for himself

07/24/00: How do you serve a turkey in August?

07/19/00: Would Hillary sling a lie about a slur?

07/17/00: Process, not peace, at a Velveeta summit

07/12/00: The Texas two-step, a nudge and a wink

07/10/00: The Great Mentioner and his busy season

07/05/00: No Mexican standoff in these results

07/03/00: Denting a few egos in the U.S. Senate

06/28/00: Bureaucracy amok! Punctuation in peril!

06/26/00: The water torture of American resolve

06/21/00: The happy hangman is a busy hangman

06/19/00: Dick Gephardt finds a Dixie dreamboat

06/14/00: Taking a byte out of innovation

06/12/00: 'Go away, little boy, you're bothering us'

06/07/00: When a little envy is painful to watch

06/05/00: Fire and thunder, bubble and squeak

05/31/00: South of the border, politics is pepper

05/26/00: Running out of luck with home folks

05/24/00: The heart says no, but the head says yes

05/22/00: A fine opportunity to set an example

05/17/00: The Sunday school for Republicans

05/15/00: Hillary's surrogate for telling tall tales

05/10/00: Listening to the voice of an authentic man

05/08/00: First a lot of bluster, then the retreat

05/02/00: Good news for Rudy, bad news for Hillary

04/28/00: The long goodbye to Elian's boyhood

04/25/00: Spooked by Castro, Bubba blinks

04/14/00: One flag down and two memorials to go

04/11/00: Consistency finds a jewel in Janet Reno

04/07/00: Here's the good word (and it's in English)

04/04/00: When bureaucrats mock the courts

03/28/00: How Hollywood sets the virtual table

03/24/00: Dissing a president can ruin a whole day

03/20/00: When shame begets the painful insult

03/14/00: The risky business of making an apology

03/10/00: The pouters bugging a weary John McCain

03/07/00: When all good things (sob) come to an end

© 2000 Wes Pruden