It seems like just a year ago that President Obama excoriated the Supreme Court, with justices sitting mutely before him during the State of the Union address, for its ruling in Citizens United. It seems like just last month that Obama, in this year’s State of the Union address, condemned the “corrosive” influence of money in politics. And it seems like just Sunday that Obama, intruding on yet another sporting event, told the Super Bowl audience: “One of the worries we have obviously in the next campaign is that there are so many of these so-called super PACs, these independent expenditures that are gonna be out there. There is gonna be just a lot of money floating around, and I guarantee a bunch of it’s gonna be negative.”
His bigger worry, however, is getting reelected and getting his own super PAC to get off its duff and match the Republicans’ super PACs. So Monday night his campaign did a 180 and signaled (is this not precisely the coordination prohibited by federal law?) that it would put all those noble concerns and the holier-than-thou rhetoric aside for the sake of getting its hands on millions from unnamed donors, the kind of fundraising Obama once warned would become a “threat to our democracy.”
Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said in a message to supporters that “our campaign has to face the reality of the law as it stands,” which he said gives a large financial advantage to Republicans and their allied groups. Messina said Obama will throw his support to Priorities USA Action, a super PAC founded by two former White House aides that until now has been unable to match its conservative competitors in fundraising.
“We can’t allow for two sets of rules in this election whereby the Republican nominee is the beneficiary of unlimited spending and Democrats unilaterally disarm,” Messina wrote.
The move marks a clear political risk for Obama, who has staked much of his political career on opposition to the outsized role of “secret billionaires” and other monied interests while also attempting to win reelection in a struggling economy.
It really shouldn’t come as any shock. In 2008 Obama rejected all public financing despite his earlier promises and became the first major-party candidate to opt out of the public financing system. (“His decision to break an earlier pledge to take public money will quite likely transform the landscape of presidential campaigns, injecting hundreds of millions of additional dollars into the race and raising doubts about the future of public financing for national races,” reported the New York Times.) This is a president whose cynicism knows no bounds.
Republican fundraisers and pundits will have a field day for a few days. (“Jonathan Collegio, spokesman for American Crossroads, one of the largest Republican-leaning groups, called the shift a ‘brazenly cynical move by Barack Obama and his political handlers, who just a year ago had the chutzpah to call outside groups a threat to democracy.’”) But it remains to be seen whether this will cost him support among his supposedly idealistic liberal backers. No doubt the lefty bloggers will applaud his about-face as “tough”and “realistic.” They’ll cheer his refusal to abide by his high-minded declarations.
A few things are noteworthy in this. First, it’s quite obvious that Obama isn’t anywhere near his billion-dollar fundraising mark that he and supporters bragged about. If Mitt Romney is the GOP nominee, Obama, unless he radically heightens his super PAC’s success, will lose his substantial money edge.
Second, it’s not the actions that are so objectionable, but Obama’s condescension that is so infuriating. President George W. Bush “compromised our values” by roughly interrogating terrorist suspects; Obama launches drone strikes with significant civilian casualties. The Republicans are too partisan and obstructionist; Obama conducts a taxpayer-funded bus tour accusing Republicans of lacking patriotism (putting party before country) and wanting kids to drink dirty water and breathe unclean air.
And third, at this point everything — entitlement reform, a budget, the Afghanistan war, domestic energy development (the XL pipeline) and certainly something so trivial as the president’s notions about political fundraising — takes a back seat to his reelection efforts. You thought the last three years saw the unseemly subordination of governance to political hackery? Get ready for a year of unparalleled hypocrisy and grotesque partisanship.