Dave Denison

Recent Articles

Fighting Al Gore

As Al Gore labors to be seen as a man of the people, the candidate's demeanor continues to strike some voters as annoyingly confident. "He's like the kid in school you wanted to beat up because he knows all the answers," Tom Coveney, a 42-year-old Massachusetts banker, told The New York Times after the first October debate. Buddy Hillow would be the man to ask about that. Hillow attended St. Albans prep school with Gore and, as recounted in a recent Gore bio, resented the fact that Gore seemed to excel at everything. Tension developed between Gore and Hillow that boiled over in a high school math class. As told in The Prince of Tennessee , by David Maraniss and Ellen Nakashima, here's what happened: "Hillow sat in front of Gore and had a habit of rocking back in his chair until it reached the precarious balancing point. Once, as he was rocking, Gore extended a finger and lightly touched the chair, upsetting the balance. Hillow turned and hissed, 'If you do that again, I'm coming!'...

Electoral Dysfunction

As the nation begins to consider electoral reforms designed to prevent another Florida fiasco, a special challenge is in store for journalists. A story line is already developing that new technology will solve the kind of vote-counting problems that marred the presidential election. And when it comes to new technology, look out: The very words seem to bring out the gullibility of even the best reporters. Exhibit A is a February 12 article in The New York Times written by Katharine Q. Seelye. Under the front-page headline "A California County Touches Future of Voting," Seelye reports on the recent experience of Riverside County, California, with computerized touch-screen voting. She quotes a retired engineer declaring: "This is the only way to go. You can't say that I got cheated on my vote." She describes election-night results coming in "like greased lightning." She reports that touch-screen systems can easily handle long ballots and multiple languages. But nowhere in the story does...

Who Speaks for the Rich?

Unfree Speech: The Folly of Campaign Finance Reform By Bradley A. Smith. Princeton University Press, 286 pages, $26.95. Money Talks: Speech, Economic Power, and the Values of Democracy By Martin H. Redish. New York University Press, 319 pages, $35.00. I t's a shame that the debate over campaign finance reform as played out in the mainstream media is so shallow and so dull. While a distant clamor occasionally arises from Washington about such proposed reforms as the McCain-Feingold bill, the truly interesting questions about money, politics, and free speech go unaddressed and undebated by the American public. Is the act of spending or donating money a kind of speech? Does money talk, or is it, as one U.S. Supreme Court justice argued not long ago, just another form of property, subject to government regulation? Should corporations be entitled to full rights of free speech? If so, how is it that tobacco companies can be banned from advertising their (entirely legal) products on...

The High Cost of Speech

Sometime in the next few years, it is likely that the Supreme Court will be asked, "Are elections in the United States so distorted by the influence of money that they have ceased to be democratic?" It's not hard to imagine the average attentive American answering that question along the lines of "Hell yes!" But the Supreme Court will not say "Hell yes." There will be evidence to weigh, there will be the usual tangle of constitutional conundrums, and there will be the inconvenient fact that the campaign finance system we have grown to know and loathe is the direct result of the Court's 1976 Buckley v. Valeo ruling, which discarded a congressional attempt to limit the amount of money that can be spent in elections. The Buckley decision has been widely questioned. A New York Times editorial called it "untenable." To some legal scholars, the central part of the ruling--allowing limits on what individuals can contribute to campaigns but not allowing limits on...

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