Thursday, June 19, 2008


I honestly didn't see this coming. Initially I was excited because I figured between McCain and Clinton/Obama I'd have two decent choices. But the things both McCain and Obama have done and said in recent weeks (like McCain being upset with the Supreme Court decision on Gitmo) have made it harder and harder for me to like either candidate. Now with Obama backing out of his earlier commitment and not wanting to do joint town halls, I'm starting to think that we can't believe a word he says. Ugh.

They showed the money to you
You showed them what you can do
Showed them your money


patric said...

okay, so this is a good way for me to ask a question not just of you, but of all..

what's the difference between lying, flip-flopping, and plain old changing your mind for a politician? i've noticed, not just now, but many times, that if a politician says one thing months ago, and then changes their mind and does another, the public reaction can be very harsh.

so, why is it we expect these people to never change their minds? do we judge their changes of heart more harshly than others?

Ben said...

That's a fair question, Patric. To me, it matters a lot WHAT people change their mind on. Whether it comes across as craven politics or an honest choice of changing minds. The importance of the issue on which the alleged "flip-flop" took place would also matter to me.

As for Obama, here's the thing for me: if he had chosen to forgo public funding because he had a relatively small number of fat cat doners who were propping him up, I'd be upset. It would be a sign of another politician in the pocket of the powerful. (Not that there aren't other signs of most politicians, including probably Obama, enjoying such comfy pocket space.)

But the difference here is that the money Obama's successfully raising has been from small donors. The rise of the small donor (which began in the 2004 campaign) has got to be one of the most encouraging signs for democracy in decades. This is a concrete, financial way in which the people, the many are taking control back from the relatively few & powerful. People who aren't millionaires or PACs can participate in the political system. That Obama has chosen to benefit from this encouraging development does not, to me, bespeak ill of his character.

And don't start falling into that Cynical, I Hate All Politicians mode, Matt. You know better. I still contend we have a selection of two very solid candidates. Both more intelligent and thoughtful than Bush. There are genuine, and important, policy differences between them for the American people to make their choice. Both are accomplished and able politicians, and I mean that as a compliment. I think there's a strong chance both could make good presidents.

Although I haven't gone through the detailed character analysis recommended by one of my favorite magazines. I think you'd find this article particularly interesting:

Matthew B. Novak said...

Patric - I'll get to it eventually, a little busy right now (as you're probably aware).

Ben - Just real quickly, I wanted to say that I think that despite the fact that there are a lot of small donations for Obama this is still very disturbing. Because on the one hand you've got ONLY small tax-payer funding (which he's rejected) and on the other hand you've got some small tax-payer funding AND big corporate funding. So your optimistic take on it is really misleading.

Second, Obama is topping McCain is PAC advertising and such... let's not pretend this is him effectively moving away from that when he's actually embracing it.

Third, he used this pledge as a way of distinguishing himself from Clinton. He won popular support on a platform of "I'm not another politician" and he himself promised to actively seek an agreement to restrict both campaigns to public funding. He made a promise. That promise was meaningful because it was a significant part of distinguishing him from Clinton and thus securing him the nomination. He has now broken that promise. He didn't have to swear he'd only take public funds. He went out of his way to make this promise.

I'm not concerned because this is a sign of someone in the pocket of big donors. I'm concerned because this is a man who is revealing that his word doesn't mean what his says it does. And considering his campaign was run on the idea that words matter... that's VERY troubling.

patric said...

well, actually, i don't know if you know this, but obama, after cinching the nom, passed down an order through the DNC. the order? no donations from large organizations, corporations, or people representing those interests.

the DNC is actually giving money back. like thousands of dollars.

yeah, this is small donation stuff.

Matthew B. Novak said...

I'd love to see a source on that. Because it certainly isn't consistent with what I've seen.

Ben said...

Matt. Here's one source:

And I still say that small donor private donations are a better form of participatory democracy than the taxpayer funded public funding. The public funding system does not measure the depth and breadth of support in the same manner as a system in which many people make small donations. When you check the "yes, let me give money to the Presidential Election Fund" you don't get to say which side you want to give to. The fact that Obama is so successful as a fundraiser with small donations means he's got a groundswell of public support. And that means something.

Matthew B. Novak said...

Ben -

Are you really making a "vote with your wallet" argument? Generally that doesn't favor Democrats, and certainly doesn't match up with a position of advocacy for the poor. Does it mean something that Obama can fundraise? Yeah sure. But we don't elect people based on how much they can fundraise, and I'd prefer a system where fundraising was less important and the candidates competed for votes, instead of money. Good for Obama that he's well-enough off with small donations that he can refuse corporate ones. I still don't see that as preferable.

Ultimately, it isn't a question of where he's getting the money that concerns me. I know I said I was concerned he was in the pocket of big donors, but that wasn't my primary concern. What really troubles me is that Obama made a promise - that he didn't have to make, but that was politically advantageous - and then, after reaping all the benefits he could have out of that promise, brazenly broke with his word. If he really felt the system was broken (his excuse now), he shouldn't have made the promise. This is a man who ran against Clinton on a campaign of integrity, of being a different kind of politician, and on the idea that words matter. He's now shown us that he doesn't have great integrity, that he's just a self-serving politician, and that we can't take him at his word.

If that doesn't trouble you... I can't imagine what will. I might still vote for him, but I've got some big reservations now.

Ben said...

I've been having a similar debate with another friend of mine, so I lose track of what points I've made where. So if I haven't said this before on this blog, I've said it on the other one and I'll say it again here: you are correct that Obama's failure to keep his promise is disturbing. It displays an unsettling willingness to back away from any promise when it doesn't benefit him.

I never saw Obama as a White Knight (PLEASE ignore any possible racial language that could be implied from that) coming to save politics from itself. That's just naive and it doesn't display a proper understanding of the darkness in human nature.

So, of course he's flawed. But that's not all he is. He's not just one big Flaw, either. He HAS, in fact, shown some willingness to take principled stands that don't benefit him. His orders to the DNC not to accept PAC money and his request to liberal 527s to NOT campaign on his behalf are both worth noting. They aren't a substitute for keeping his word, but neither are they nothing.

He's not as good as his supporters think. He's not as evil as his detractors think. Same could be said for any politician, I suppose.

As for the separate issue of the meaning of the rise of small donations in politics, I think you grossly underestimate the importance of this trend for democracy. This is something that is larger than any individual candidate. And I fervrently deny that it is incompatable with advocacy for the poor.

It comes down to this....the difference between a system where small donations rule and a system where big donations rule is HUGE and it is fundamental. A small donation regime is a system where a large number of people can participate in democracy (no different from a voter registration drive, a protest, or a get-out-the-vote effort). A large donation regime is a system where the politicians are bought and sold by a wealthy elite. In a small donation system, a candidate with a fundrasing advantage means he/she has a broad range of popular support. In a large donation system, a candidate with a fundraising advantage means he/she has the right friends. And if having a broad base of popular support means you have the advantage in competing for votes, I fail to see how that's a bad thing.

Matthew B. Novak said...

Ben -

I think you're rare among Obama supporters in that you never thought he was anything but a politician. I'm concerned because so many people do see him as something different, and that's exactly what he's trying to cultivate.

As for the system of donations, I think the daily show said it best: what's the concern with taking public money? Are we afraid he'll fall into the pocket of "big public"?

Does big vs. little donors matter? Sure. But I'd rather a system in which donors have no extra influence. You keep citing to broad-based support with small donors. You know who else has broad-based support? A candidate who accepts public funding and wins the popular election.

Why do we want people who can/do donate to have more influence than those who can't/don't? If you're gonna support that system, that's the fundamental question. Why is a system where money has influence (regardless of the source) better than a system where the parties are on even ground?