Recently I talked about how one of our Founding Fathers, James Madison, diagnosed the problem of special interests long before they became the kind of headache they are today. Madison knew how the sugar lobby would behave before there was a sugar lobby. We say special interest. Madison’s word was faction.
There are two ways to try to control “the violence of faction,” Madison explained. One is to limit the causes of faction. But you can’t stop people from having different opinions and interests and we must never stop people from expressing or acting upon those opinions and interests. Sadly, that’s what some proposals for Campaign Finance Reform threaten to do. Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, said Madison. You can’t save freedom by destroying freedom.
So instead of trying to limit the causes of special interests, we should try to limit the effects. Madison thought the Republican principles enshrined in the Constitution would go far to “secure the public good and private rights” against the dangerous effects of faction. He was right. But he didn’t realize how strong a faction politicians themselves would become, thanks to their virtually limitless hold on power.
The Founding Fathers thought about making term limits a part of the Constitution, but few people desired a political career back then. So in the end they decided it wasn’t necessary. Big mistake, as Jefferson realized at the time. Not one that’s too late to correct, though.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.