Traditional liberals should be cheering the Supreme Court's decision last week in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, which reaffirmed a value at the heart of the First Amendment: The best response to unwelcome or controversial political speech is more political speech. Democratic self-government depends on the right to participate in advocacy and debate, and the Constitution reserves some of its strongest language to support of citizens who choose to exercise that right: "Congress shall make no law" abridging it.
But much of the reaction from the left to McCutcheon, which threw out the aggregate cap on how much money an individual can contribute to federal candidates or party committees in a given election cycle, has been apoplectic. The ruling didn't alter the maximum contribution that can be given to any candidate ($2,600 for each primary or general election), but by striking down the overall ceiling, it restored the right of Americans to support as many candidates as they wish.
Yet instead of celebrating this expansion of liberty, many liberals bewail it.
"Make no mistake: This decision is a setback for our freedoms," lamented Montana Senator Jon Tester. On Twitter, his Vermont colleague Bernie Sanders issued a stream of overwrought comments. "The Supreme Court," read one, "is paving the way toward an oligarchic form of society in which a handful of billionaires like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson will control our political process." Common Cause pronounced McCutcheon "A Disaster for Democracy," and accused the court of putting out "a welcome mat for corruption."
A similar keening followed the high court's Citizens United ruling four years ago. That decision restored the traditional First Amendment right of corporations and labor unions to engage in independent political expenditures, and liberal critics shrieked that democracy as we knew it was finished. Someone who didn't know better might imagine that those dire predictions had come to pass — that determined, deep-pocketed Republicans could indeed now buy American elections at will.