Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Vapid Transit

Posted By on Tue, Feb 20, 2007 at 9:31 AM

The Tennessean's single-issue editorial page has been in place for a few months now, and on some days it's a good thing: diverse views by engaged writers on complex issues instead of just a short house editorial. But the state of the editorial page lately makes you wonder if the paper is finding it hard to keep up with the demands of the format. Today's forum on presidential campaign spending is a case in point: an uninformed editorial flanked by a narrow and superficial sampling of "other views," which taken as a package misses most of the actual substance of the issue supposedly being explored in depth. The paper's "our view" editorial bemoans the number of dollars spent on presidential campaigns, and concludes with a call for "real campaign reform that would set limits on the amount spent per candidate." Nowhere is it mentioned or even hinted that such limits on spending have been held to be unambiguously unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court on multiple occasions.

To one side of the editorial is an "other views" piece calling for "greater public disclosure of the activities and flow of funds by candidates, their campaigns, the major political parties, third-party groups and independent parties" and seeking "new innovative ways to increase voter involvement." The writer neglects to mention or critique the unprecedented levels of online disclosure now available, and fails to suggest any particular (or non-particular) ways to increase voter involvement.

To the other side is a piece making two logically absurdist claims: that increases in campaign spending will "yield a more informed public" (where is the hard evidence that vast increases over the past couple of decades have had this effect?) and that presidential spending isn't all that high if you compare it to dollars spent on Super Bowl advertising (a meaningless comparison on a number of levels; it also isn't all that high compared to the defense budget).

Nowhere in this in-depth exploration of the topic do you find any serious discussion of the real issues involved in campaign finance: the magnified influence of special interests, the role of corporate money, and the plausible alternative of public financing.

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