Friday March 15, 2019
When Sen. John McCain passed away last August, he was lauded far and wide for his long career of public service. Rep. John Lewis, the famous civil-rights activist, hailed McCain as a “warrior for peace.” In reality, McCain embodied a toxic mix of moralism and militarism that worked out disastrously for America and the world.
In his funeral eulogies, McCain was portrayed as a hero and a visionary. But early in his congressional career, he barely avoided indictment as part of the Keating Five Savings and Loan bribery scandal that cost taxpayers billions of dollars. McCain repaired his image by becoming a champion of campaign-finance reform and new restrictions on political contributions. In 2002, Congress enacted the McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which proved more effective at suppressing criticism than at reforming political life. The McCain-Feingold Act authorized harsh penalties for private citizens who accused their rulers of abusing their power. It prohibited most issue ads by private groups on television or radio in the months before a presidential or congressional election.
In 2003, the Supreme Court (by a 5-4 margin) upheld the new law in response to activities with “a significant risk of actual and apparent corruption.” Justice Antonin Scalia noted in a dissent to the decision upholding the law, that the McCain-Feingold act “cuts to the heart of what the First Amendment is meant to protect: the right to criticize the government.” But that was fine with McCain, since he declared that if he had the power, he would outlaw all negative political ads. He declared, “I detest the negative advertising. I think it is one of the worst things that has ever happened in American politics.” Banning negative ads but not political lies was McCain’s notion of a level playing field.