Low risk hypocrisy

    Successful politicians are highly competitive people, and if they believe that their principles might get in the way of winning, they’ll chuck the principles.
    So it went last night, when President Obama announced via his campaign manager that he is now fully in favor of Super PACs after long being against them. He sent word to rich Democratic donors and special interests that it’s perfectly OK to send big checks to the underfunded Obama-friendly “independent” group known as Priorities USA Action. Until now, Obama has been highly critical of the Super PACs, which can accept unlimited money in any amounts from anyone with deep pockets, thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling; indeed, he assailed the court in his 2010 State of the Union speech, rightfully complaining that five Republican appointees had “reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests…Well, I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests.”But now he has decided that his principles on this issue are a luxury he literally can’t afford.The Republican Super PACs – notably, an “independent” group friendly to Mitt Romney and staffed by former Mitt Romney aides, and another co-founded by Karl Rove – have been raising gobs of money while Priorities USA Action, helmed by ex-Obama aide Bill Burton, has been spinning its wheels. But no longer. Obama wants his affluent donors to shift into high gear and fill Burton’s coffers.Obama campaign chief Jim Messina wrote in a blog post last night: “With so much at stake, we can’t allow for two sets of rules in this election whereby the Republican nominee is the beneficiary of unlimited spending (while) Democrats unilaterally disarm.” Hence, a new chapter has opened in the perpetual money race.Obama has chosen pragmatism over principle, because is to win. A defensible recalibration, yes. But this is also the third time, on the issue of campaign money, that Obama has opened himself to a charge of hypocrisy. In 2008, he originally signaled that he’d abide by the traditional public financing rules that required him to fund his autumn campaign with a capped amount of federal money. But then he flip-flopped. He became the first nominee, since the advent of Watergate reforms, to dump the rules and run a privatized autumn campaign, raising and spending far more money than would have been possible under the federal cap.The second episode was about secret donations. During the midterm campaign of 2010, Obama insisted that secret donations were a “threat to democracy.” Republicans had found tax law loopholes that allowed them to rake in money without having to identify the rakees. Obama cried foul: “The American people deserve to know who’s trying to sway their elections.” Bill Burton, a deputy White House press secretary at the time, warned that “unless a bright light is shined on the shadowy activity of these outside groups, people aren’t going to know the facts.”Fast forward to June 2011. With Obama’s tacit blessing, Burton went off and created his Super PAC, with the express intention of taking advantage of those same tax loopholes and offering big donors the benefits of anonymity. Burton said in June that “the days of the double standard are over,” that Democrats could ill afford the luxury of refusing secret donations while the Republicans were reaping the same. In other words, no unilateral disarmament – the same argument that Messina, the Obama campaign chief, used last night.Actually, Obama’s switcheroos are nothing new. On the issue of campaign money, it’s standard Democratic behavior to oscillate between principle and pragmatism. When Bill Clinton first took office in 1993, he assailed the flood of “soft money” (unlimited donations to political parties) and vowed to ban it. But when his reelection seemed imperiled in 1995, he fell in love with soft money, to the point of making it a fetish. He wound up ensnared in a scandal, taking big checks from a slew of sleazy characters, and renting out the Lincoln Bedroom as a perk to donors.But did that scandal damage Clinton in his ’96 push re-election? Nope, he won quite comfortably. The point is, most voters rarely care about the campaign money issue. Compared to the big stuff going on in the nation and in their lives, campaign money is strictly inside baseball. Obama in 2008 scored the biggest Democratic win since 1964, notwithstanding his flip-flop on public financing. He paid no price then, and he’ll likely pay no price this fall for the flip-flop on Super PACs, regardless of how often the Republicans highlight his reversal. In other words, some hypocrisies are low risk. For Obama, hewing to the high road was a bigger risk. Better to join the GOP on the low road to a new money race. In 2012, there’s probably no alternative to winning ugly.——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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