“Common Sense” and “Hardcore History” host Dan Carlin blasted Chief Justice John Roberts on Friday for his “breathtaking” decision in the McCutcheon v. FEC case, warning it was pushing Americans towards radical action.
The court last Wednesday struck down the aggregate limit on federal campaign contributions that had been in place since 1974. Political donors had been limited to giving a total of $123,200 to candidates, national party committees and political action committees during the federal two-year election cycle.
But Carlin was far more concerned that Chief Justice John Roberts seemed to believe the very idea of campaign finance reform was wrong. Roberts wrote in his ruling that the government had no legitimate reason to regulate money in politics, besides outlawing a very specific and narrow type of corruption.
“No matter how desirable it may seem, it is not an acceptable governmental objective to ‘level the playing field,’ or to ‘level electoral opportunities,’ or to ‘equaliz[e] the financial resources of candidates,’” the chief justice wrote.
The government can only enact laws to prevent quid pro quo corruption — in which a candidate accepts money from a donor in return for voting in favor or against a specific piece of legislation — the court said.
“This is where the decision is so breathtaking, you can see where this is going to go,” Carlin said Friday on his “Common Sense” podcast. “If this is the rationale that the court is operating under, and don’t kid yourself, because Justice Clarence Thomas agreed with the majority on the court but went even farther and basically said, why are we having any of these limits at all? If this is indefensible, all the other stuff is indefensible too. If this is the rationale, and the chief justice says it is — you shouldn’t even try to do this — well, then all this limiting money is wrong. So we’ve opened up the door to this without ever explaining how people who don’t have money are supposed to get a response from government.”
He noted that fewer than 700 people would have been affected by the McCutcheon ruling during the 2012 election cycle.
Carlin said the beautiful thing about the American system of government was the built-in “safety valves” that allowed the population to express their political frustrations without resorting to violence. The justices, he continued, had shut down yet another safety valve and moved towards locking in “an oligarchy or plutocracy,” where only a few wealthy individuals could influence politics.
“They are backing the people in this country who do not fall into the class of those that government is responsive to into a corner and basically saying you have two choices: You either accept this is the way it is… or you change it. But what does changing it mean when it can’t happen at the electoral level because the candidates who say, ‘I will change this electoral system so that it is not so dependent on big money givers’ can’t get enough money to get on a ballot so you can vote for them?”
Without the appropriate safety valves, people would resort to protests, in the best case, and revolutionary violence, in the worst case, Carlin said.
“You can either say that [campaign finance reform] is a laudable goal but the way you are going about it violates free speech too much, or you can say what Justice Roberts said, which is changing the fact that the people with extraordinary amounts of money are the ones that get listened to by government is changing the very nature of American government. And, folks, if you say that, then what are you saying? That the only way to change things in the American government is revolution? And if you say that, what are you asking for?”
“I’m anti-revolution. I want revolutionary change, because when things get bad enough that is what it takes to fix problems, but I don’t want revolution. I don’t want 1968 again — 168 riots, hundreds of bombing attempts. I don’t want that. So don’t push me into a corner where that is the only way I can get legislators to listen to me who normally only listen when you give them cash.”
Carlin remarked that the United States was moving away from being focused on the middle class, as the Founding Fathers had intended it to be.
“The poor people had always been screwed in this society, make no mistake about it,” he said. “The middle class is now where the poor people have always been — and here is when it is going to get really weird, the upper class is next. We are going from the 1 percent being the problem to the 0.01 percent being the problem, and they’re not the problem because they are successful, they are the problem because they’re making a system where no one else has any ability to impact it, and the court is backing them up on that. Close that down and you’re asking for trouble. Just my two cents.”
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[Image via the McConnell Center, Creative Commons licensed]