Posted by: mutantpoodle | April 9, 2008

Make it Stop!

Cluelessness

Cluelessness

This is the logic of campaign coverage these days.

Question: A blond, a brunette, and a redhead apply for a job. Who gets it?

Answer: The one with the largest breasts.

Here’s the campaign corollary:

Candidate A, a year ago, said he would try to come to an agreement with the other party’s candidate so that both of them could have a publicly financed campaign – but now, with record dollars rolling in from small donors, said candidate is rethinking that pledge.

Meanwhile, Candidate B signed up with a the FEC for public financing of his primary campaign, even using said financing as backup collateral on a loan, and has since unilaterally declared that he’s opting out of the system (even though he needs FEC approval to do so and there is no FEC to rule) and has since blown past the primary spending limits on publicly funded campiagns, thereby breaking the law – a law, by the way, that has his name on it.

Q: Which candidate will be pilloried as the hypocrite?

A: The Democrat.

Yes, Obama is Candidate A, and McCain Candidate B. And I really shouldn’t expect reporters to let go of the Obama “promise” – you can argue that his hedge is indicative of situational ethics – but can’t people, when they bring this up, at least mention that John McCain is violating the law that he helped write?

Today’s concerned analyst is Andrew Romano, writing on Newsweek’s “Stumper” Blog, who seems less concerned that John “Lifetime of Experience” McCain can’t figure out who the hell we’re fighting in Iraq than that Barack Obama might not agree to publicly finance a Presidential campaign with someone who is ignoring the election laws he allegedly champions:

In front of 200 people who’d forked over $2,300 for the privilege of attending, the Democratic frontrunner suggested, in what amounted to a justification of opting out of public financing, that his low-dollar network of online donors effectively represents a “parallel public financing system.” “We have created a parallel public financing system where the American people decide if they want to support a campaign they can get on the Internet and finance it,” he said. “They will have as much access and influence over the course and direction of our campaign that has traditionally been reserved for the wealthy and the powerful.” In other words, who needs public financing when we have online fundraising.

No doubt that the Internet has massively democratized the process of funding a favored politician, and that’s a wonderful thing. But there’s a simple reason it’s not a replacement for public financing: the latter is equal. Both candidates get the same multi-million dollar, taxpayer-financed grant–meaning that money is eliminated from the list of potentially decisive factors. And that’s the point. If Obama wants to split hairs and say he never pledged to accept public financing, fine; he never uttered the words, “I pledge to accept public financing,” and I doubt many voters would care if he forgoes the system in the fall. But the fact is, he did check “yes” when asked if he would “participate in the presidential public financing system,” and he did say that he would “aggressively pursue an agreement… to preserve a publicly financed general election.” With McCain already “pledged,” as Obama put it, that logically amounts to a promise (unless Obama plans to aggressively pursue a public financing agreement he doesn’t intend to honor). And he was well-aware of the power of the Internet even then.

One more time: Obama made a conditional promise over a year ago; McCain signed a legal agreement with the FEC. Is it just that we expect Republicans to break the law? Is that why no one is paying attention?

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that if Obama forgoes Federal financing, his campaign will still be publicly financed. It will be financed by those who choose to donate to him – all members of the public, all American citizens. And, by the way, when did the prospect of grassroots fundraising blowing the doors off the traditional $2,300 per person dinners and protecting a candidate against the unlimited dollars available to 527s become scary? Is it because it’s the unwashed masses who are doing it? Or is it because a Democrat is raising money without going the corporate route?

Conversations about campaign finance get mired in distractions. This is one of them. (For some others, read this fine primer by DHinMI at Daily Kos.) Frankly, I don’t think this is an issue except to people who write on deadline and to (in Calvin Trillin’s perfect phrase) the Sabbath Gasbags. If I were Obama, I’d get this over with and officially opt out of public financing now. I’d say that given Senator McCain’s treatment of his legal commitment to the FEC during the primary, it seems unwise to trust any agreement with him in the general election.

Obama won’t say that, of course. but somebody oughtta.

UPDATE: Turns out Joe Sudbay at Americablog just did.

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