For five elections beginning in 1976, the presidential candidates of both major parties took public financing and did not receive private campaign contributions. “You can’t prove a negative,” Mr. Wertheimer said, “but in the Carter and Reagan presidencies there were no news stories about campaign contributions influencing presidential decisions.”I think that takes the cake for damning with faint praise. If it's true that the best one can say about restrictions about campaign finance is that they prevented the Regan administration from being overly solicitous to business interests, then I might wish that the Court had just struck out the whole body of law entirely. But good work from Krikpatrick (including the silly Wetheimer quotation; he's part of the conversation, and his views should be part of the story).
Alas, not all was good in the Sunday Times this week. Academicphobe Matt Bai has a new theory to peddle: we're all independents now, and so long-term changes in American politics are no longer possible. Oddly enough, Bai's intuition about realignment is something that has a lot of support within the political science literature. But what one can learn there (from David Mayhew, for example) is that realignment was never a particularly useful or accurate theory to begin with, not that it has lost its punch only recently. Moreover, it isn't true, as John Sides explained here, that the political system is overrun by independents. As far as we can tell, the electorate is just as partisan these days as it has ever been.
Bai winds up concluding that we're never going to see another Ted Kennedy, Strom Thurmond, or Robert Byrd in the Senate...despite the obvious fact that all of those are recent (or current!) Senators, and that the current Senate is actually the oldest ever. In fact, there's no evidence at all that incumbency is any less important now than it was earlier.
The tip-off, by the way, is Bai's analogy to the Conan/Leno wars. Bai says:
Forget the staying power of an institution like Johnny Carson; when Jay Leno starts to feels a little stale, he is shifted to prime time, then shifted back to late night. It was probably never very realistic for modern political thinkers of either party to dream of a 50-year reign. This century’s tectonic realignment is more likely to last 50 months or maybe 50 weeks, depending on how long it takes voters to seek out the latest offer or the newest best deal.Yeah, except: one could just as easily argue that what's really going on here is that viewers weren't willing to change, and that the real lesson of Leno/Conan is stagnation, not change. After all, Jay Leno (even without the interruption) lasted far longer than Steve Allen and Jack Paar combined, and it sure looks now is if Leno has a good shot of matching Johnny's thirty-year run. And that's not all: Johnny devoured his opponents, but nowadays they just stay on -- David Letterman's run on CBS dwarfs those of, say, Joey Bishop or Dick Cavett, and Dave's overall latenight run as our TV Friend is now only two years shy of Johnny's. Bai apparently missed the Simpsons Anniversary Special, too.
General warning: whenever a pundit uses the latest cultural fluff, whatever it is, to try to make a point, the best bet is to run the other way.