In what is fast becoming a habit, Sen. John McCain has, yet again, been ensnared in a trap of his own making. This time, it's on the subject of lobbying.
Over the years, lobbying has become almost a dirty word. Calling someone a lobbyist is akin to calling them a lawyer or tax collector - that is to say, a practitioner of a career that, while sort of legal, is generally considered hateful. For politicians, accusations of "being close to" lobbyists ranks right up there with consorting with prostitutes - in some ways, it's worse.
In an infamous display of journalistic incompetence, the New York Times recently attempted to slime John McCain with this brush. The original article is now behind the Times' login wall, but a summary of the situation can be found here.
Simply put, the Times accused John McCain of a) having an extramarital affair with b) a lobbyist. This should have been a pretty effective knockout punch.
But the fact that the article offered not one shred of evidence for the affair, and has been met with absolute denials from all involved, has turned things back on the Times. Rather than McCain's candidacy limping from the wound, it is now the Times' credibility and reputation that is on life support - as it should be.
The mainstream press has finally realized what conservatives have known for many years: the New York Times will prominently publish any allegation against Republicans or their supporters, no matter how scurrilous and untrue, while doing its best to cover the peccadilloes of Democrats. In other words, it is a heavily biased liberal paper that makes no attempt to be either fair or balanced.
The putative sex scandal has now been thoroughly debunked, shot down, stomped on, beaten to the curb, and defenestrated. So much for that. There remains, however, the matter of associating with known lobbyists - and there, Sen. McCain is still having self-inflicted troubles.
One of his signature issues, and really one of the very few that offers some appeal to conservatives, is his opposition to government waste, fraud, and abuse. He is noted for criticizing the various earmarks, set-asides, and other self-dealings for which Congress is rightly despised. Therefore, an accusation of this nature is especially telling, since it might effectively smear his image as a shining knight of honesty and probity.
The problem for McCain is that he himself has depicted lobbyists as being the Devil Incarnate, so when he is accused of dealing with them, he is merely being tarred with the same brush that he has long used to tar others - particularly anyone who opposes his various "campaign finance reform" laws.
If he had considered the Constitution, however, this would not be an issue: lobbyists are doing nothing more than exercise the First Amendment rights of all citizens.
The First Amendment is best known as our guarantee of free speech, and it certainly is that, but it includes other provisions as well. Here's what it says:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Take special note of the final clause. As citizens, we are guaranteed the right to petition the Government for a redress of grievances - in other words, to ask for things to be changed. This is not a privilege, this is not something which the Government can choose to grant to favored people and withhold from others: it is an absolute right, which each and every one of us may exercise at any time and in any manner that we choose.
Sometimes this means writing a letter to your Congressman, or making a phone call. Sometimes it means joining together with other like-minded citizens to form a special interest group. And yes, sometimes it may mean hiring someone in Washington to make your case for you - that is to say, a lobbyist.
Far from being workers of iniquity, lobbyists are explicitly performing a function guaranteed to all in the Constitution. Obviously, some of them are arguing for bad things. But which ones?
For every person supporting a given position, there is naturally someone in opposition - if there weren't, it wouldn't need a lobbyist because it would already be law. Who is to say what is wise and what is foolish?
It is the very nature of democratic politics to argue over things, for the various sides to make their cases, and for decisions to be made based on everyone's input. Only when this natural and normal give-and-take degenerates into out-and-out bribery do we have a problem - and even the New York Times did not dare accuse Sen. McCain of anything like that.
McCain is limited in his ability to defend himself against the charge of consorting with lobbyists because he has himself forcefully argued for unconstitutional limits on lobbying and expressions of political support.
Once again, conservatives can gain satisfaction by watching the Senator suffer the consequences of his own positions. The Constitutional sword with which to slaughter these silly accusations is sitting there for him to use - but to do so, he'd have to slice right through his own beloved regulations.
Maybe if he suffers enough, he'll realize what we've known all along - McCain-Feingold is a brain-dead travesty which should be repealed. But don't bet on it.