“By waging unsubstantiated rhetorical assaults on his opposition, and then demanding that they prove their innocence, Obama is headed into the domain of demagoguery — maybe even McCarthyism,” White House reporter Keith Koffler wrote in Politico. The Philadelphia Inquirer editorial board termed Obama’s effort “fear-mongering.” Pat Caddell, an advisor to President Carter, didn’t mince words: “I was the youngest person on Richard Nixon’s enemies list. I take this stuff seriously. What they’re doing is Nixonian — it’s McCarthyite.”
A president should rise above such shallow vindictiveness — especially if he himself has been subjected to rumors about foreign influence. In fact, the current firestorm over the Chamber harks back to a 2008 controversy over alleged foreign donors to Obama’s presidential campaign.
Conservative bloggers broke a story about how the credit-card processing procedure of the Obama campaign allowed numerous donations from foreign nationals to be accepted. Geller and other activists discovered the questionable donations after seeing large contributions from names such as “Doodad Pro” (employer: “Loving,” profession: “You”) listed on Federal Election Commission reports.
In October 2008, when these stories surfaced, ThinkProgress published five posts on campaign-finance issues. Three dealt with the controversy over the Republican National Committee’s purchase of clothing for vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin, one addressed campaign expenditures on Palin’s make-up, and another addressed a 1986 letter to Sen. John McCain related to the Keating Five scandal.
It seems that ThinkProgress just “trusted” the Obama campaign. Reporters, though, asked the campaign how the public could know that donations under $200, which need not be publicly disclosed, were not being accepted from foreign nationals.
In essence, the Obama campaign said, “Trust us.”
“Our focus is making sure we comply with campaign-finance requirements,” Robert Bauer, general counsel for the Obama campaign (and now White House general counsel) told National Journal. “We do a very strong job, both with the technology we use and with this very heavy commitment to comprehensive back-end review” (The FEC never audited the Obama campaign to confirm this because the campaign declined to accept public funds).
Nonetheless, according to ABC News, President Obama isn’t in a trusting mood when it comes to the Chamber: “Speaking at a Democratic rally in Bowie, Maryland, the president today suggested, however, that he did not believe the Chamber — and he said this is not just a threat to Democrats but to democracy.”
It’s remarkable that incumbent members of Congress and their supporters, egged on by the president of the United States, would demand criminal and civil investigations of their political opponents on the basis of an uncorroborated blog post.
That’s a lot more threatening than anything the Chamber might do.
– Allison Hayward is the vice president of policy at the Center for Competitive Politics, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group dedicated to protecting First Amendment political rights.