Parallel Public Funding—The Audacity of Nope!

Posted by Melvin Bray on June 22nd, 2008 filed in Useful Perhaps

If you have a moment, listen to or watch these before reading futher:

We can’t have a new kind of politics on the terms set by our old politics.

One of the old terms we have to change is the guarantee that political gamers count on: the public just WON’T THINK and CAN’T REASON and will continue to accepted whatever interpretation ideological pundits, politicians and commentators offer.

Another of the old terms of debate we have to abandon is the misconception that APPROPRIATE CHANGE (change necessary to transcend gridlock) will fit neatly into traditional liberal-conservative ideological constructs. It won’t. It can’t, if one believes Albert Einstein.

Obama’s choice to not commit to federally- and party-managed public funding of his campaign is not a flip-flop. He made no unconditional pledge to do so. He said he would IF he and his Republican opponent made mutually iron-clad commitments to close the loop-holes that make our campaign finance laws nigh useless. Though he is now more than willing to throw stones, McCain did not join Obama in going this far.

Obama’s choice is also not simply a matter of pragmatism as an overwhelmingly cynical–when not indiscriminately antagonistic–mass media have suggested. It wasn’t just the opportunity to go after more money (i.e. political expediency) that compelled Obama. He has already out-raised McCain more than 5 to 1, and he could have used the money raised during the primaries up until the Democratic Convention 8 weeks from now, plus the $85m of federal public financing, plus money spent on his behalf from the DNC. If winning at all costs were Obama’s impetus, he would have done just this. It would have been the politically expedient way to have his cake and eat it too. As it now stands, Obama will raise money (and can spend as much as he raises), but not in amounts so extraordinary so as to dwarf the aforementioned composite amount. The difference is that now Obama will be funded in small amounts (on average less than $100) by a self-organizing, broad, identifiable coalition of “we the people”—not by an anonymous fiction often appealed to by politicians as the “general public” or the “American people—not to overlook deep-pocketed, well entrenched corporate interests who regularly manipulate the current system of so-called “public financing”. This was in no wise a money play.

The laws allowing for the public financing of presidential campaigns were written in 1976 after Watergate. They are 30 years old and do little (if they ever did much) to address the ways strategists game the system today. We’ve all watched with disgust at how toothless those laws have been in their ability to subdue the influence of money in the political process. Yet for reasons I don’t understand, we’ve accepted politician’s banal excuses as to why they just can’t do anything substantive about it and let them off the hook for compromising reform efforts to the point of uselessness.

Matthew Dowd, Republican stratigist, on ABC’s This Week said Obama has created a “brand issue” for himself—”he’s tarnished his brand.” This comment belies a fundamental misunderstanding of the Obama brand—at least the part that has capture the imagination of post-ideological progressives like myself. Obama’s brand is safe with us if all you have on him is that Obama chose to take a transparent position parallel to a too easily exploitable so-called “public finance system” that has yet to limit the impact of big money in American politics. I’ll take that brand of politics over the status quo any day.

Believe it or not, I’m not an Obama or bust guy. I’m certain he will disappoint me in some ways. But this isn’t one of them. Like I tell kids who want to be mad at name-calling, we have to “consider the source.” The push-back to this move is coming from all those who have a vested interest in our political system as it is. Obama is finding ways to subvert that system, and I’m glad for it. It gives me hope.

*Thanks to Stephen Colbert (or his writers) for the clever and insightful phrase “The Audacity of Nope”—I love it!

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