Thursday, June 19, 2008

Obama Opts Out of Public Funding

The knee jerk reaction is to see this as anti-populist, sleazy, business-as-usual. Only someone who doesn't need $80 million turns down $80 million.

And there is the matter of Obama's agreement to accept public funding (and forgo private money), posited by John McCain. McCain, a genuine campaign-finance reformer (for which he is reviled by many fellow Republicans) pushed that pawn at a time when his fortunes were not good and Obama's were unpredictable.

So, the old pol is a man of the people, and the change agent is just another politician who does what suits him, like those Republicans who got elected on a term-limits platform but decided, after their two terms, that their work was not yet done.

But as Frank Rich keeps telling us, these are not times in which the old prism works. Obama is a shockingly viable candidate -- his viability is shocking -- to a degree that belies even the recent history of this nation. Among the other things he has already done is this: prove that in the post-Watergate, full-bore-Internet era, the reason for public financing has been rendered (nearly) irrelevant.

What public financing was meant to sweep away were giant donations from a small number of people who then had hooks into the candidate and who often even cast candidates to serve their needs.

But while Obama has raised record amounts, he has done it a dollar at a time from a vast swath of contributers. In so doing -- building on the remarkable groundwork of Howard Dean in 2004 and alongside the resilient Ron Paul in this cycle -- he has helped us realize the promise of the original intent of campaign finance reform by muting the influence of special interest money.

While it was always possible that nearly the entire adult population of the United States wanted to contribute to presidential candidates, it was the frictionless facilitation of the internet which has made this happen, and the Obama camp's dexterity in separating people from their money which has led us here.

Where is here? A world where the only disadvantage a candidate has in fund raising is being a lousy prospect. It certainly doesn't seem to be a disadvantage to be a 44-year-old black man with a name like Barack Hussein Obama.

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