Taking dog-wagging paranoia to the extreme. ...

A mostly political Weblog.
Sept. 30 2002 3:59 AM

Let's Get Cynical!

What we can learn by taking the Dems dog-wag paranoia to the extreme. ...

Speaking of tails overpowering dogs, please note the additions, amendments and backsliding caveats that have been appended to Friday's campaign finance item, below. ... 3:18 P.M.

Suppose you thought President Bush were orchestrating the Iraq crisis for purely political reasons. ... As Al Gore would say, I have not raised those doubts, but many have! They include columnist Matthew Miller. But Miller's recent column  has the virtue of taking the cynical, dog-wagging view of Bush to an out-of-the box extreme. In Miller's view, the long-term political trends -- i.e. for the next few presidencies, not just the next few weeks -- favor the Democrats, mainly for demographic reasons (e.g. Latinos):

Many Republicans think these trends favor Democrats, too. That's why George W. Bush, learning the lesson of Newt Gingrich, has always pretended to have a "compassionate" agenda. But Republican political consultants privately know the surest way to stem the Democratic drift is for the war on terror to become the master narrative of American politics. [Emphasis added.]

What's interesting are the implications of this super-cynical view (which I do not necessarily share!) for the Iraq question.. Specifically, if Bush wants to use the terrorism issue to help his own reelection in 2004 (and not just to win the mid-term elections this November) will he invade Iraq in January, as many conservative commentators hope and expect? The answer is no. If a January Iraq invasion were successful, it would probably be over too soon to help Bush in 2004 -- and Saddam Hussein's fall would open up the dangerous possibility that the nation's attention would quickly shift back to domestic issues on which Democrats have the edge. .... No, unless Bush is planning to invade Korea and Iran after Iraq, the optimal cynical strategy for maintaining anti-terrorism as the "master narrative of American politics" would seem to require Bush, once the midterms were safely over, to keep delaying the Iraq invasion for a year or two, so that the real military crisis comes closer to the next presidential election. (Miller has in fact  said this.).... In other words, to the extent that Bush is the purely cynical, self-interested dog-wagger that some Democrats (not me!) charge, he can't also be the irresponsible cowboy who is going to rush into war in January. It's not in his political interest. ...  12:55 A.M.

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Friday, September 27, 2002  

Scientists Discover New McCain-Feingold Black Hole: Hmmm. The Federal Election Commission has exempted 501 (c)(3) charitable organizations from the McCain-Feingold restrictions on "issue ads," arguing that the I.R.S. can police them to ensure they don't become conduits for political money. But, as RiShawn Biddle notes, the I.R.S. has just allowed a 501 (c)(3) charity to pour money into the campaign that opposes Ron Unz's anti-bilingual "English" initiative in Massachusetts. ... Campaign finance laws are complex, and it's usually a mistake ( case in point) to jump to conclusions on the basis of a few news accounts. But isn't this now a big, big, loophole? You get to funnel unlimited amounts of money into political campaigns and take a charitable tax deduction too! Will the net effect of McCain/Feingold be tax breaks for political fatcats? ....

Update -- further study required: Veteran kf reader R emails to say I've overstated the importance of the 501(c)(3) loophole:

501(c)(3)'s are (have always been) permitted by law to participate in "legislative" matters to a limited extent, and referenda are treated as "legislative" for this purpose, since they do result in laws.  But 501(c)(3)'s remain absolutely prohibited from participating in electoral campaigns for or against candidates, and the IRS actually polices that rule pretty carefully.

Let's assume that R (who has always know what he's talking about in the past) is right, and charitable groups can give to referenda campaigns but not to candidates or parties. There would still seem to be lots of loophole potential if these groups -- unlike other, non-"charitable" 501(c)(4) corporations -- are allowed to mention a candidate's name in the final 60 days before an election. The friends of a candidate could associate him with a popular initiative -- look at the way the ads for Arnold Schwarzenegger's after-school-activity initiative in California promote Schwarzenegger himself. Or a candidate's backers could trash his rival by naming the rival as an opponent of a popular referendum ("Tell Congressman x to stop opposing the safe schools initiative.")  You say there are no similar referenda at the federal level? What about campaigns for particular legislation ("Tell X to stop defending the death tax") or constitutional amendments ("Help Congressman DeLay protect our flag from desecration.")? ... These indirect means of de facto campaigning will become important if the McCain-Feingold law cuts off more direct means. It won't, of course -- but the other loopholes, while much simpler (because they don't need a referendum or issue to use as a pretext) don't offer the advantage of tax-deductibility and anonymity. ... Again, I'm probably missing something. I will try to find out what it is.... P.S.: For a useful, very general, non-technical overview of potential McCain-Feingold loopholes, try this  article. ..

More update: Further study has revealed that a) You apparently need an actual initiative or referendum to justify charitable spending. Mere pending legislation won't do, although the logic behind this rule isn't very clear (since intervening in an initiative vote seems more like meddling in politics than just promoting pending legislation). Still, because initiatives exist at the state level, but not the federal level, the rule complicates the ability to use charitable organizations to promote federal candidates. b) Only "public" charities, not private foundations (e.g., Ford, MacArthur, Gates)  may undertake spending on referenda, and even then it must not be a "substantial" part of their activities; c) If a charity mentions a candidate's name too often, the I.R.S. is still likely to come down on them for intervening in an election. ... [So is anything at all left of your overheated little item?--ed All these I.R.S. rules and powers seem quite vague, and give a lot of highly-abusable discretion to the tax agency (e.g. if Congressman X heads a charity and is spokesman for a state initiative it supports, why can't he appear in its ads?). The rules seem ripe for court challenge and legislative revision. If other routes for funneling unlimited donations into politics are closed or made more difficult, the advantages of deductibility and anonymity are likely to encourage donors, consultants and lawyers to push to expand the range of charitable activities.  It's a small loophole now, but the night is young!.... ]  4:18 P.M.

Can I suggest again that any Bush war bandwagon that doesn't quite have Peggy Noonan on board  yet is not a war bandwagon that's ready to roll? ... 1:53 P.M.

In today's NYT, House minority leader Richard Gephardt criticizes Vice President Dick Cheney  for

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