Party poo-bahs, donors themselves, blogospheric kibitzers, his own career-guidance counselors and possibly even the GOP are trying, or so it seems to this out-of-the-loop kibitzer, to bully Barack Obama into making a big mistake: to forgo public financing in the general.
Obama should roundly denounce the advice, and if he feels like going spectacularly wild, even reject it.
It's bad policy, he knows better, and the simple and singular development that he hasn't yet embraced it is the surest indication that he does, in fact, know better. And even more damaging than the wounded implications for the future of public financing are the legitimate openings it would provide the GOP for character assassination: just another pol, same old politics as usual, the typical caving in to traditional pressures when push comes to shove, not to mention momentous hypocrisy.
Forget any minor escape clauses Obama may have included when, way back when, he took the pledge, as recently summarized by the New York Times: "If he won the nomination, he would limit himself to spending only the $85 million available in public financing between the convention and Election Day as long as his Republican opponent did the same."
That, loosely stated, was 99 percent of the commitment he made in answering a questionnaire from the Midwest Democracy Network, back in November when he was facing Hillary's "inevitability" and he wished to righteously shame, as he put it himself at the time, those other "presidential candidates" who had announced "they would forgo public financing so they could raise unlimited funds in the general election."
Now, more than a $100 million later in private donations and with no droughty spigot in sight, Obama is humming, hawing, parsing and amending. Again, the New York Times -- and this is just about the mildest coverage he can expect: "Mr. Obama was notably noncommittal about his previous proposal in Tuesday's Democratic debate, indicating that he would add new conditions, especially on spending by independent groups, to his previous pledges to accept the deal. If nominated, 'I will sit down with John McCain and make sure that we have a system that is fair to both sides,' Mr. Obama said, alluding to the need to close 'loopholes.'"
No, no, a thousand times this heterodox no. The electorate doesn't "get" loopholes, Mr. Obama, and cares even less.
While you're out there explaining those byzantine legalisms that call for the likes of one of your former Harvard Law School classmates to comprehend, all the electorate will be hearing and actually comprehending are these simple words from Mr. McCain: "The fact is, Senator Obama signed a piece of paper and pledged to take public financing for his campaign if I did the same. I believe that Senator Obama should keep his commitment.... The rest of it is ground noise. The rest of it is irrelevant."
Explaining is indeed losing, and explaining is all Obama would be doing for a good part of the general election campaign, as he's forced to trail off from any other message he may wish to pound.
Nor will the pertinent points related to public financing and his historical pledge, with or without verbal or written amendments, be the issue. John McCain & Co. will swiftly bury those finer points -- after all, they don't want to explain any more than he does -- under the umbrella barrage of attack that he is, simply, a hypocrite. He made a pledge, he broke it. Ergo, any pledge he makes is breakable. His chant of "change" becomes risible. He's just another pol -- whereas, behold, McCain is a man of his word.
In short, Obama would lose the most fundamental foundation of his political raison d'être. Worse, he would be the one to have thrown it away.
And for what? The goo-goos make an excellent point. Said Joan Claybrook of Public Citizen: Any presidential candidate "ought to be able to run a campaign for two months on $85 million" -- about $10 million a week. She then delicately previewed the coming, blistering attacks by McCain: Obama's hedging is "a very bad signal."
Mr. Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe, has "said the campaign would not make a decision [on public financing] until the Democratic primary is settled."
Here, the exception proves the rule, for this is exceptionally bad advice from a generally outstanding adviser. And -- see opening sentence -- Obama is hearing it from more than just Mr. Plouffe.
It's killer advice -- and that adjective is not meant in its hip sense. A "settling" of the primaries could be months away, and McCain would profitably spend those months undermining Obama's message of change and painting him, as mentioned, as just another pol.
Obama should not permit himself to get fixed behind the eight ball on this. He shouldn't permit the above to cement his position -- hypocrisy -- in the public mind, the settling in of which would then require twice as long to undo, which of course he won't have time for.
He should, rather, reject, denounce, or otherwise disregard the hardball, politics-as-usual advice from the seasoned "professional" crowd -- you know, the breed that so benefited Hillary Clinton's bid -- and declare for public financing, now. He'd disappoint that noisy machinery of the right and be glad he did, as would millions of others.
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