It was no surprise when Barack Obama flipped on public financing last week. When it suited his goals last year, he pledged, "If I am the Democratic nominee, I will aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election." When it didn't suit his goals, he ditched the pledge. And get this: Apparently he did it because the Republicans made him do it.
Obama has raised an impressive $296 million to date -- dwarfing John McCain's $122 million. He stands to raise a lot of money -- certainly more than the $84 million he would have received from the federal presidential public financing system -- for the nine weeks following the Democratic convention. So forget "change we can believe in."
I cannot get as indignant as some critics seem to be. After all, public financing never was about reforming politics. It always was about helping Democrats get into the White House -- which is why so many alleged reformers have not only accepted Obama's flip-flop, but praised it. Even the goo-goo Center for Responsive Politics website featured an opinion piece that suggested that the $1.2 million per day of public financing "just might not be enough" for a presidential candidate.
In a video e-mailed to supporters last week, Obama floated the argument that his huge war chest was akin to public financing because of all the $5, $10 and $20 checks his team has cashed. But as the New York Times reported, already Obama "has collected more money in contributions of $1,000 or more than even Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's once-vaunted team of bundlers of donations." This week, Obama is trolling for big checks from Clinton fat cats. Obama also claimed that he was opting out of public financing, even though he supports it, because "the system is broken." It's broken, you see, because right-leaning GOP 527s -- independent groups that operate outside fundraising limits -- will be used to "smear" Obama. After eight years of Democrat 527 smears against Republicans, it is kind of him to notice.
Team Obama set up fightthesmears.com ostensibly to fight misinformation. Site visitors are invited to send viral e-mail that charges, "Rush Limbaugh and his fellow right-wing attack dogs have been spreading baseless rumors about a nonexistent video tape showing Michelle Obama using a racial epithet." It was a vile, baseless rumor. You could applaud Team Obama for setting the record straight, if it did not gloss over the starring role of Larry C. Johnson, identified simply as a "blogger," not a supporter of Hillary Clinton, as David Weigel reported in The American Prospect online. Instead it targeted Limbaugh for saying "a tape exists of Michelle Obama using the word 'whitey' from the pulpit of Trinity United."
Thing is, Limbaugh stipulated, "There's a rumor that there's a tape" two weeks after Johnson's first blog alleging that Republicans were hoarding a "whitey" tape. (Limbaugh should not have repeated the rumor, but he did so as many political editors and reporters were grappling over whether to report the unsubstantiated but widely traveled Internet rumor, or just ignore it.)
Then Obama pulled the race card. At a fundraiser -- where else? -- Obama told supporters that he had to turn down public financing so that he can raise enough money to fight GOP 527s. As the New York Times reported, he said, "They're going to try to make you afraid of me. 'He's young and inexperienced and he's got a funny name. And did I mention he's black?"
Who does Obama think he's kidding?
He has raised buckets of cash -- and rather than be upfront about opting out of public financing because of the math, he stooped to blaming other people for his decision to cash in. He also blamed the system and played the race card. Which raises a question that may well have torpedoed Hillary Clinton's campaign: Does America really need another victim in the White House?