Commentary: Will the real Sen. Warner stand up?

By Ray L. Garland

Spin is the essence of modern politics. It occurs when mass media and politicians take a real event like Hurricane Katrina and create a narrative thought to be helpful to Democrats or Republicans. This becomes revealed truth to those who don’t have time to read a good newspaper or think for themselves, against which all the saints could argue in vain. Sen. Mark Warner is a master of spin and it has served him well.

One could cite just two votes Warner has cast that make a mockery of his oft-spun claim to be a force for moderation and compromise. The first would be his vote, joined by Sen. TIm Kaine, to discard an historic role of the U.S. Senate as a brake upon the power of a president to fill judicial and executive offices.

Prior to that, confirmation required a three-fifths vote. Democrats changed that to a simple majority and President Obama has already made use of it to fill places on federal courts of appeal with judges thought to be reliably liberal.

It is true in recent decades both parties have abused the confirmation process to deny or needlessly delay appointments, and the process should be expedited, as it used to be. But there was wisdom in protecting the minority view from the zeal of a temporary majority, as the framers of the Constitution recognized in creating a special role for the U.S. Senate.

Warner’s second vote, also joined by Kaine, would have allowed language to be added to the First Amendment to permit Congress and state legislatures to more strictly regulate the funding and conduct of political campaigns. There is risible conceit in Warner’s belief he could improve upon the elegant simplicity of James Madison’s words: “Congress shall make no law….abridging freedom of speech…”

Those who believe incumbent politicians of both parties would not use such power to protect their hold on power will believe anything. In fact, insofar as the Supreme Court has allowed, they have already done so.

Of course campaigns cost too much, and most of the money comes from those with an axe to grind, but the only way to move mass opinion today is with costly and sophisticated TV commercials. Those who can’t afford them generally don’t win.

In an increasingly centralized and corrupt system the “crimes” of the McDonnells seem quaint, though doubtless many will see them as a surer sign of decay than calculated attacks upon the First Amendment and the rules of the Senate.

Ray L. Garland, of Good, is a former Republican state senator and newspaper columnist.