Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Newt Watch -- Professor Bainbridge's take

Gingrich has a penchant for saying just the right words to trigger headlines. I think he does this on purpose so that more people will talk about what he is discussing. At some level he knows that no real criticism of what he says will stick without actual quotes, and whenever he tosses out lines like "World War Three" or "curbing free speech before we lose a city"...all he's doing is waving his rhetorical arms around wildly in order to attract attention. Up close, in context, stuff like this loses its punch in the context of a much bigger package of jawboning, typically about a topic more cerebral (i.e. boring) but likely more important than the bait he tossed out.

Professor Baingridge took a closer look at Newt's most recent verbal smoke bombs and this is what he found.

Newt's speech strikes this observer as eminently sensible. Political speech out to be at the core of First Amendment protections. People should be free to say whatever they want about politics and elections and to publicize their views as widely as possible. In today's media economy, that takes money. Restrictions on campaign finance thus are restrictions on the core of free speech rights.

To be sure, there is some risk of money leading to corruption. The late Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously opined, however, that “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.” Prompt and complete disclosure of campaign contributions, as Gingrich recommends, strikes the appropriate balance between free speech and fear of corruption.

As for the war on terror, one is reminded of Ben Franklin's dictum that "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." At the same time, however, as late Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson famously remarked, "The Constitution is not a suicide pact."

There must be a balance. As Russell Kirk wrote, "A just government maintains a healthy tension between the claims of authority and the claims of liberty." Or, as his wife Annette put it, "You can't just have the concept of freedom without order, and that's the first need of all."In a world in which radical terrorists have access to WMD, we can't let either political correctness or extreme claims of personal freedom to protect terrorists from appropriate surveillance. Accordingly, Gingrich is sensibly calling for a proactive discussion of the basic question: What is the appropriate balance between order and liberty?
Go read the larger Newt quotes and you can see how he comes to these conclusions.

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