Paul Jacob

Vermont is the only state in the union to boast a U.S. representative who openly calls himself a socialist. That sure says something odd about Vermont.

But what's really odd is Bernie Sanders himself. He may run as an "Independent," but his ideology strikes its independence chiefly by distancing itself from the accumulated wisdom of the last 50 years. Or 500. Yet he still wins elections, which just goes to show you that, as the old saw has it, "common sense is not so common."

The open secret is: he gets a lot of support from Democrats. In Vermont, he's just "a little to the left" of where Democrats dare to stand.

And yet, you've got to ask: To what extent is his national presence a result of Vermont conservatives joining the Bernie Bandwagon as an export technique . . . better ship the bozo off to Washington than keep him in Montpelier!

That notion only goes so far. Vermont's closet socialists still run the state. They were the ones who put into law 1997's campaign finance reform, capping voluntary donor spending at $300,000 for governor races, less for other state races.

Now the Supreme Court has ruled against it. Even Justice Stephen Breyer said that the law imposed "burdens upon First Amendment interests that (when viewed in light of the statute's legitimate objectives) are disproportionately severe."

Well, yes. But what's the non-severe proportion? How can more be bad when some is good? All of it must be bad . . . when free speech is the issue.

And free speech is the issue. Political talk may seem cheap, but getting the word out to others takes effort, time, and resources. Capping spending effectively squashes political speech.

Not all political speech, of course. The incumbents would still be allowed to make waves and hit headlines. Same goes for those front-runners who have already, in some other venue — say, another office — invested a great deal in the capital of public opinion.

This isn't accidental. Many politicians support spending limitations simply because they see themselves as having the inside edge. Campaign finance laws help keep the outsiders out.

This was all made clear by Bernie.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.