Politics & Policy

A Politician, Not a Messiah

With financing, clarity.

Back when he was still struggling to win the Democratic nomination against the Clinton juggernaut, Barack Obama pledged to accept public financing for the general election if he became the nominee. Now that he is the nominee and has the potential to raise three times as much money as his Republican opponent, Obama has broken that pledge. So what?

Politicians break promises all the time. Sure, this was a little more flagrant than most: Last September, Obama checked “Yes” on a questionnaire that asked whether he would accept public financing. He stressed his long history of support for the idea, and he agreed to meet personally with John McCain, the Republican nominee, to work out an arrangement by which they both accepted public funds and agreed to spending limits.

But situations change, and so do politicians. Over the course of his primary fight with Hillary Clinton, Obama built a donor base of over 1.5 million people and ability to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for the general election. By contrast, McCain has accepted public funds, and he is limited to spending only $84 million. With that kind of edge, Obama would be a fool not to flip-flop, so flip-flop he has. That’s just practical politics.

Obama now says he has no choice but to outspend McCain by tens of millions because “we’ve already seen” that John McCain is “not going to stop” independent-advocacy groups from raising and spending their own money on political speech. Meanwhile, the only outside group we’ve seen running attack ads is MoveOn.org, whose cloying “Hands off my baby” ad recycles the 100-years smear against McCain.

Independent advocacy groups are still free to spend their own money to attack or defend a candidate, and that’s why “the public financing of presidential elections as it exists today is broken,” Obama says. An Obama spokesman told reporters Thursday that, as president, Obama would push to fix the system by 2012. The system won’t be fixed, you see, until paid political speech is restricted to the candidates themselves and financed by your tax dollars.

Even though Obama is rejecting public financing for now, we needn’t worry about him coming under the influence of moneyed interests, he assures us. Drawing on his broad appeal, Obama has created a vast network of small-dollar donors that keep him from having to “rely on millions from Washington lobbyists and special interest PACs.”

Obama, he never tires of telling us, doesn’t accept contributions from registered lobbyists. But he never talks about the 14 registered lobbyists working as bundlers for his campaign, each of whom will help him by raising tens of thousands of dollars in smaller donations. Of course, obfuscation through the careful omission of facts is an art that all politicians master.

Barack Obama masquerades as something new, but he is just another politician, albeit one with a surpassing ability to make us feel good about ourselves for liking him. When he looks out over the crowds and sees all those adoring faces ready to hand the reins to the free world over to a rookie senator with a good sales pitch . . . well, no wonder he thinks he can say one thing, do another, and convince us the whole thing never happened.

Let’s put it this way: Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people, and Barack Obama isn’t about to go broke. In fact, quite the opposite.

– Stephen Spruiell is an NRO staff reporter.

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