Liberal hypocrisy on Bloomberg's moneyed fight for gun control
President Obama heads to Colorado today in his push for gun control – a cause NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg has spent millions to support. Liberals who usually oppose the influence of money in politics are now praising Bloomberg. Such hypocrisy undermines their cause.
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A local judge echoed the same Progressive theme: Without strong regulations, rich people would dominate politics. "Our boasted freedom and equality have become mere mockery and delusion,” the judge wrote, if “the hopes and aspirations of every man for political preferment, whatever his learning, ability, and talents, must be measured and bounded by the size of his pocketbook.”Skip to next paragraph
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Alas, that’s precisely what happened. In the 1970s, Congress restricted how much an individual candidate could contribute to his or her own campaign. But the restrictions were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in its 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision, which deemed campaign contributions a form of speech – and hence protected by the First Amendment.
And three years ago, in the Citizens United case, the Court struck down limits on corporate spending as well. Although corporations are still barred from giving money directly to campaigns, they’re now free to shell out as much as they’d like to persuade the public to vote for – or against – a candidate.
Liberals like myself howled at these rulings, which allow a billionaire like Michael Bloomberg – or any big corporation – to exert an absurdly disproportionate influence on electoral outcomes. To borrow our favorite metaphor, the rich get a megaphone. And it drowns out the rest of Americans, no matter how loudly we shout.
So where are the liberal voices, rising up in indignity to protest Bloomberg’s most recent political spending spree? I don’t hear them. Instead he’s our hero, because he’s bankrolling endeavors that we embrace.
Our Progressive forbears knew that politics should depend on who can make the best arguments, not on who has the biggest wallet. Gun control was an urgent and worthy cause well before Michael Bloomberg started underwriting it. By keeping quiet about his undue influence on the process, we erode our own credibility. And that might ultimately harm the campaign for gun control, all in the guise of propping it up.
Jonathan Zimmerman is a professor of history and education at New York University. He is the author of “Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory” (Yale University Press).