But this isn’t a story about spineless, corrupt politicians and it isn’t a story about the power of Wall Street. It’s a story about our campaign-finance status quo. So long as we expect our presidential candidates to come up with the better part of a billion dollars to finance their campaigns, then like Willie Sutton, they’re going to have to go where the money is. And in our country, right now, the money is on Wall Street. If we don’t want them kowtowing before bankers and hedge-fund managers, well, we have to change the laws governing our elections, not whine about politicians who’re playing the game as we’ve set it up.
That said, I‘ve always thought one of the interesting “what-ifs” of the Obama administration was a world in which they’d launched a campaign last year to pass the Fair Elections Now Act based on the argument that the banks and assorted other special-interests simply had too much power in Washington.
Obama’s 2008 campaign, after all, was mostly about special interests and “changing the way Washington worked,” both of which got put aside during the financial crisis and its immediate aftermath. One of the real dilemmas of his presidency has been finding some way to express outrage against the banks without causing collateral damage to the economy. And then there was the administration’s need for a campaign that wasn’t necessarily more stimulus, as they couldn’t pass more of that, but also wasn’t totally unrelated to the economic crisis. A campaign-finance fight, if framed correctly, seemed like a possible way for Obama to return to his campaign roots, address a political cause of the financial crisis, and give his supporters a new cause to fight for.