As the campaign for the general election begins, so does the mudslinging. And if you had the audacity to donate to Romney, prepare for an onslaught of vitriol from the Obama campaign, new media-style. The most powerful man in the world is keeping a list, and it looks like he intends to frighten Republican donors to stop the money flow.
This past week, one of his campaign websites posted an item entitled "Behind the curtain: A brief history of Romney's donors." In the post, the Obama campaign named and shamed eight private citizens who had donated to his opponent. Describing the givers as all having "less-than-reputable records," the post went on to make the extraordinary accusations that "quite a few" have also been "on the wrong side of the law" and profiting at "the expense of so many Americans."
These are people like Paul Schorr and Sam and Jeffrey Fox, investors who the site outed for the crime of having "outsourced" jobs. T. Martin Fiorentino is scored for his work for a firm that forecloses on homes. Louis Bacon (a hedge-fund manager), Kent Burton (a "lobbyist") and Thomas O'Malley (an energy CEO) stand accused of profiting from oil. Frank VanderSloot, the CEO of a home-products firm, is slimed as a "bitter foe of the gay rights movement."
Homing in on private citizens and their business ventures in an effort to influence political discourse marks a low not seen in campaigning since Nixon, whose own "enemies list" rightly horrified the nation. It's an intimidation tactic, anathema to a country where everyone is free to participate in the political sphere as they wish. That the president's campaign has taken to attacking an individual's character for his political leanings is bad enough. But as Kimberley Strassel points out, the man who commands the goverment has no business calling into question a person's legal standing simply because they donated to the other party.
"We don't tolerate presidents or people of high power to do these things," says Theodore Olson, the former U.S. solicitor general. "When you have the power of the presidency—the power of the IRS, the INS, the Justice Department, the DEA, the SEC—what you have effectively done is put these guys' names up on 'Wanted' posters in government offices." Mr. Olson knows these tactics, having demanded that the 44th president cease publicly targeting Charles and David Koch of Koch Industries, which he represents. He's been ignored.
He's targeted insurers, oil firms and Wall Street—letting it be known that those who oppose his policies might face political or legislative retribution. He lectured the Supreme Court for giving companies more free speech and (falsely) accused the Chamber of Commerce of using foreign money to bankroll U.S. elections. The White House even ginned up an executive order (yet to be released) to require companies to list political donations as a condition of bidding for government contracts. Companies could bid but lose out for donating to Republicans. Or they could quit donating to the GOP—Mr. Obama's real aim.
It hardly seems becoming that the Leader of the Free World would try to restrict individuals' constitutionally-protected participation in public affairs. Yet Team Obama has become transparent in its desire to win reelection at any cost. Thanks to the advent of Super PACs, Republicans have a fundraising advantage. If Obama can't outraise them, then it seems he's willing to eschew niceties like speech rights and the democratic process to keep himself competative. "Leveling the playing field," indeed.