April 17, 2006 [LINK]

Does GOP oppose free speech?

In Sunday's Washington Post Outlook section, George Will kept up the drumbeat of dissent against the nominally "conservative" party that is clinging to majority status. He bewails the April 5 vote by the Republicans in the House of Representatives to place arbitrary limits on how much people can contribute to the "527" political advocacy groups (such as MoveOn.org), on the grounds that much of what those groups do is obnoxious in tone. Well, I agree with that assessment, but my opinion, or anyone else's opinion on what constitues good taste in political discourse should have no bearing on the law. The First Amendment means what it says, period. This is just another example of one bad law (McCain-Feingold campaign finance "reform") begetting another, as legsilators are prone to vote for dubious bills just to prove to the voters that they are concerned, even if they have grave doubts about whether the bill will actually work the way it is supposed to. As Will says, the House Republicans have in effect come out in favor of restricting political speech. He goes on to wonder what would happen once the Democrats return to power (as they will some day, Karl Rove notwithstanding), and tried to muzzle radio talk show hosts on similar grounds? The Republicans would have no basis on which to object. The problem is that too few people on either side of the aisle these days are disposed to look at issues from a detached, abstract perspective, putting themselves in the shoes of the opposition. Among the eighteen "principled Republicans" who voted against restricting 527s named by Will, I noticed John Shadegg of Arizona, who was a contender for the position of House Majority Leader in January.

City government in Staunton

I confess to not paying a great deal of attention to local affairs here in Staunton, but I have often wondered why the city council is elected at large rather than on a ward-by-ward basis. Neaby Waynesboro is smaller, and it uses the ward system. The lead editorial in today's Staunton News Leader confirms my suspicion that the lack of dispersed geographical representation on the city council has resulted in an unusal concentration of downtown business interests. One sometimes gets the sense that many of the development projects, such as the recently-completed Stonewall Jackson Hotel restoration, have been designed in such a way as to favor certain interests over others. The editorial points out that nearly all current city council members either live or work in downtown, which may be why the outlying residuential and commercial areas are often neglected. The election will be on May 2, but apparently none of the candidates are identified with a political party.