The Long View 2003-12-11: McCain-Feingold; Iraq Contracts: The Human Gaia Effect; Nixon the Nazgul

The Tripartite Iraq that never was

The Tripartite Iraq that never was

I am not an expert in elections law, but I do find it remarkable that John felt that the long term impact of the McCain – Feingold Act would be to ultimately weaken American political parties to the point where a celebrity could run for President without really needing to heed a traditional political party. We got that good and hard.

This prediction is even more remarkable, since the Citizens United decision partially overturned McCain – Feingold, but it did so in way that exacerbated the trend John saw in 2003 rather than altered it. Since John was a lawyer, it isn't really surprising his track record on law is better than his track record on foreign policy.

McCain-Feingold; Iraq Contracts: The Human Gaia Effect; Nixon the Nazgul

The US Supreme Court has, in its wisdom, upheld almost all of the McCain-Feingold law, which regulates the way that money for political campaigns can be collected and spent. As I understand the law (and I invite correction from anyone who has studied it), McCain-Feingold does two important things. It pretty much eliminates the political action committees, or at least their rationale. Those were entities under the control of political parties to which unrestricted contributions could be made; now the contributions are restricted. The law also limits the ability of entities not in the business of politics, such as commercial corporations and labor unions, to pay for broadcast political ads in the final months before election. McCain-Feingold allows higher limits for private and business contributions made directly to political campaigns, but limits of this sort are not a novelty.

This question was squarely within the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to decide. The decision is also probably correct: regulations of this sort are within the power of Congress. The mechanisms that Congress created may or may not work, but that's not for the Court to say. The only interesting question, really, is the long-term effect of McCain-Feingold.

What Congress seems to have done is to criminalize serious politics within the political parties. There will be no less money in politics because of McCain-Feingold; it just won't flow through the official campaigns, or indeed through entities controlled by the party establishments. As one commentator put it: special interest groups will no longer work through the parties; they will become the parties.

The evolution of politics increasingly resembles the evolution of the film industry. The parties were like the studios of Hollywood's "Golden Age." They were essentially manufacturers that controlled everything. With the rise of independent producers and independent production companies, those that survived became utilities for entrepreneurs. One imagines that this is the future of political parties in America.

The extreme development of this would be a situation in which national campaigns are put together in much the way of independent motion pictures. Party nominations might be helpful, but inessential. We are almost there now: there is a lot in common between the way that Peter Jackson managed to make his Lord of the Rings films and how Howard Dean got to be a major contender for the presidency.

* * *

Now that the Pentagon has decided to limit bids for the reconstruction of Iraq to countries that were politically helpful, everyone is off the hook. The last thing the Administration wants is to internationalize the reconstruction effort beyond the Coalition. The French and Russians in particular would use their presence to reestablish contact with the old establishment. (If the UN had any significant role, by the way, it would probably be to create Baathist, Shiite, and Kurdish zones, which it would then try to treat equally as part of a ceasefire.) The Pentagon's simple patronage policy spares us the embarrassment of rigged bids.

The Russian government, for domestic reasons, probably could not have forgiven Iraq's debts. The Pentagon has given them an excuse not to. They will, of course, agree to a restructuring when the time comes. The French and Germans had no intention of donating much money for reconstruction, at least not without being allowed to exercise their malign influence on the political process. The contractor policy allows them to portray parsimony as principle. The French and the EU have said they intend to investigate whether the policy is a violation of the international law of competition. This should be interesting, because there is no such thing.

* * *

A recent study suggests that human activity prevented a renewed Ice Age 10,000 years ago. It seems that, at the end of the last glaciation, the atmosphere was just chock full of carbon dioxide and methane. In the normal course of things, these levels would have quickly fallen, and the glaciers would have returned. However, just about that time our ancestors were burning grassland and forest (sometimes by accident). Deforestation kept much of that CO2 in the atmosphere. The appearance of agriculture and animal domestication also increased the amount of green house gasses. The effect was to keep the climate more stable than it otherwise would have been.

Conclusions like these generally turn out to be unsupported, but it's an intriguing idea. If there is anything to it, these findings would actually be an illustration of the sensible form of the Gaia Hypothesis, which is that the biosphere interacts with the atmosphere in such a way as to mitigate temperature changes. In this context, not just man, but civilization, appears as an integral part of the biosphere. People and buildings and industry are just as good as trees; indeed better, if the human race does what other entities can't do. Again, this is something I have touched on previously. The continuing moral is that Deep Ecology is not just anti-human, but unnatural.

* * *

In the latest release of the tapes that President Nixon made in his office, we learn what the late president thought of that California up-and-comer, Ronald Reagan:

NIXON: "On a personal basis, Rockefeller is a pretty nice guy (unintelligible) he's kind of a (unintelligible) Reagan on a personal basis is terrible. He just isn't pleasant to be around."

HALDEMAN: "No, he isn't."

NIXON: "I don't know, maybe he's different with others."

HALDEMAN: "No, no, I don't think so."

NIXON: "He's just an uncomfortable man to be around ... strange."

It is possible to defend Richard Nixon as a statesman and as a human being. Nonetheless, we should not forget that dogs barked and geese hissed when he passed by. He never did find Baggins, who leaked to the Imladris Post.

Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly


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