I’m no fan of having publicly financed elections. However, it is a matter of extensive public record that Barack Obama has claimed to be a huge proponent of such a system and that he explicitly pledged to opt for public financing if the Republican nominee agreed to do the same, which John McCain has. (The McCain campaign has put out a useful timeline detailing Obama’s progression on the issue). Obama’s support for public financing wasn’t some minor matter, but a crucial part of his call for a new kind of politics.
It should be clear to any fair observer to what has happened here. Obama tried to take the high road when he was an underdog candidate for the Democratic nomination. But now that he’s won the nomination and the money is rolling in, he doesn’t want to abide by the limits imposed by the public financing system. He figures that most Americans don’t really care about the details of campaign finance, and that even if he takes a short term political hit, the long-term political advantages of having more money than his rival will be worth it.
Yet in perhaps the most craven act of his campaign to date, in selling out his deeply held progressive principles, he tries to spin his sell out as an example of him standing up for those very principles. Obama released a video on his website saying that the public financing system is broken, and the video is embedded to a fundraising form prompting potential donors to, “Declare Your Independence from a Broken System” by giving him money. (This is the same Obama who told Larry King last February, “the presidential public financing system works.”)
The central theme of Obama’s campaign has been that if Americans can overcome their cynicism there’s no limit to what they can achieve. But Obama’s devious actions today are a perfect example of why Americans are so cynical about politicians in the first place.