Barack Obama-Blatant Opportunist or Man of Principle?

Last year US Senator Barack Obama took a bold step to set himself aside from his opponents for the Democratic nomination.  Poorly funded in comparison to his opponents, Obama said he would acccept public funding of his presidential campaign if he got the nomination.  Also in money trouble due to early missteps, John McCain also said he would accept public funding.

How things change!  Many months later Obama is on the cusp of getting the Democratic nod and is awash in cash.  Now he is actively trying to figure out how to go back on his promise.

This back and fill shouldn’t surprise anyone.  This is the same man who on CNN talked of how superdelegate votes should absolutely reflect their state delegations.  But when pointed out that would mean Ted Kennedy would be voting for Hillary Clinton for the nomination, Obama started to hem and haw and talk of the need for “discussion and change.”

So now we get to see how much of Barack Obama is based in principle and how much in opportunism. Will he keep his word, or let his word get washed away in a flow of cash?

So now we get to see if the man who claims he will move us to a higher moral level of political discourse will go back on his word.

I don’t think he should.  He made the choice, and told the public what he would do.  There is nothing illegal with his now refusing public funding, nor is it immoral…I think it is more than a little unethical, I think it is wrong, and I think it reeks of the political subterfuge and opportunism in the political environment that Obama claims he will move to eliminate and “change”.

Perhaps I am simply cynical, but what makes this more interesting is the possibility that the Obama never really thought it would come to this. I can just imagine the following conversation among his advisors …

Advisor 1-“We are stagnant…we need to do something bold”
Advisor 2-” I got it! Have the Senator announce that if nominated he will accept public funding of his campaign and challenge the other candidates to do the same!”
Advisor 3-“Great idea! If they do accept, we are no worse off. If they don’t, we become the campaign of principle!”
Advisor 2-“Absolutely! Let’s take this to the Senator and see if he will sign off?”
Advisor 1-“Hold on…what if we actually get the nomination? Then we will be stuck with public financing…”
Advisor 3-“Oh,come on! This is for a tactical advantage…the only GOP guy who can use this against us is John McCain, and there is no way he will be the nominee!” Nope, no one is going to remember this next Spring!”

And they would probably have been right…except John McCain will be the GOP nominee.

Now Barack is stuck…either he sticks to his guns and does as he proposed, OR he ends up getting to answer the question, “Do, were you being an opportunist now or back then?”

The folks I feel sorry for are those who have consumed the Obama Kool-Aid.  They are touting their guy as the last honest man in American politics, and if he says I am going to refuse public funding they will find some way to rationalize the decision.  They may say it is necessary to get out of Iraq, it is OK because otherwise the GOP will find some “Rovian” tactic to win the election, that Obama is the better man so it is OK “just this once” to go back on his word.

You know they will, and that is where the real tragedy lies.  This matter goes beyond the the character of Barack Obama, and the question is he an opportunist or is he principled.  We know from his take on the Super-delegates that he has a flexible morality…we just don’t know how flexible.  But if he now refuses public funding after saying he would accept it if nominated, then he will also be climbing the greasy pole on the backs and shoulders of thousands of supporters who will be willing to subvert their innate sense of what is right just so Obama fulfill his ambition.

Senator O, what’s it going to be?


11 thoughts on “Barack Obama-Blatant Opportunist or Man of Principle?

  1. Pingback: 2008 Election - 2008 Election » Barack Obama-Blatant Opportunist or Man of Principle?

  2. Well, although I support Obama, I never quite drank the Kook Aide. But then I’m older, not necessarily wiser, but certainly more cynical.

    But how is this different from John McCain, who also took the public financing when his campaign was broke, and who also is now trying to get out of his commitment?

    Is the problem, perhaps, that the costs of running an effective campaign have gotten so prohibitively expensive that taking the funds makes candidates less competitive and puts them at too much of a handicap (except if they are truly broke and desperate)?

  3. The last story on the matter that I saw said that McCain said that if Obama was the nominee he would take him up on his offer. If you have a different story, send me the link and I will flay McCain as well. See link at:

    I think part of the problem is less what it takes to run an effective campaign than how much it costs to do everything you possibly can…I suggest there is a difference between the two, and the difference between what is possible between public financing and private financing.

  4. McCain has already submitted a written request with the FEC to withdraw his pledge to use Federal matching funds because he’s about to exceed the primary limit. Considering he submitted the request to withdraw from the public funding program several days before he made the criticisms levelled at Obama cited in the article you linked to, I find it disingenuous for him to say that he’s still planning on using Federal funds if Obama is indeed the nominee.

  5. If you run by the pure definition of the word, you could be right. Since this is a response to a prior act of disingenousness, I say it is more a case of “reaping what you sow”.

    Tactically speaking, it is just taking advantage of Obama’s desparate showboating early in the process.

    Obama has shown a capacity to outraise McCain. If McCain can try to create a level playing field by getting them both using public funding, or potentially show Obama as an opportunist why not? No one forced Obama to make his offer/challenge to his opponents.

  6. Bwana, you’re going to have to help me out here, because now it sounds like you’re the one rationalizing. If McCain’s trying to create a level playing field after signalling his intent to vacate that playing field, we can easily picture three of McCain’s advisors having the following conversation:

    Advisor 1-”We are stagnant…we need to do something bold”
    Advisor 2-” I got it! Have the Senator announce that if nominated he will accept public funding of his campaign and challenge the other candidates to do the same!”
    Advisor 3-”Great idea! If they do accept, we are no worse off. If they don’t, we become the campaign of principle!”
    Advisor 2-”Absolutely! Let’s take this to the Senator and see if he will sign off?”
    Advisor 1-”Hold on…what if we actually get the nomination? Then we will be stuck with public financing…”

    I’m not an Obama koolaide drinker, and I never thought it was a sign of principle that he made that promise, I thought it was a sign of self-doubt in his own ability to raise money. But since it’s clear that neither candidate is interested in sticking to this pledge, I don’t think it’s rational to say either candidate has a monopoly on principle versus expediency.

  7. Of course it is not rational, this is politics.

    Well, near as I can tell…and I am confident you will send me the links…no candidate still in the game expressly accepted or turned down public funding in pursuit of the nomination.

    Obama specifically said that if nominated he would accept public funding and the associated limits in the general election.

    More to the point, McCain did not challenge anyone to follow his lead. We can perhaps imagine your McCain scenario, but ultimately it did not happen…McCain never challenged anyone.

    Obama made the challenge for the general election, McCain agreed to the terms, and now Obama is trying to weasel out of it.

    For all your attempts to tar McCain, the facts are still this: Obama made a challenge to use public funding in the general election. McCain agreed to the idea. Now Obama wants to weasel out.

  8. OK, I will try this again…

    The issue is…Obama challenged for the general, McCain, Obama is trying to weasel. ba-da-boom.

  9. And I’ll try clarifying again: it’s a “weasel[ing]” if Obama rescinds on what I will generously term a “verbal contract” for the sake of your argument in the not-yet-begun general election, but it’s not weaseling if McCain is actively and legally attempting to extricate himself from a public financing agreement he reached in writing with the Federal Election Commission which pertains to the current election?

    By the way, in case your readers don’t follow campaign finance law, the reason McCain is trying so hard to get out of public financing for the primary election is that he’s already met the spending limits attached to the federal funds provided. This isn’t a problem insofar as winning the nomination goes, but it’s definitely a problem if he wants to run negative attack ads about Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton before the primary-election portion of the 2008 election cycle ends. There are insidious reasons behind his fervent desire to extricate himself from the financing rules he adopted last year.

    (btw, could you publish my last comment in which I provided the link you invited?)

  10. Last time I checked trying to work the best deal you can with a federal agency is part and parcel of running a campaign…plus I don’t recall that he challenged anyone to do as he did, nor did he offer a challenge as part of creating a public persona for himself.

    Obama, on the other hand, did just that. He made it a point to challenge all candidates to join him in accepting public funding in the general. Now that McCain has done so, Obama waffles.

    I think there is a clear difference between the two actions. If you don’t see that, then I guess we just disagree.

    I guess I should be used to his shoot from the hip style…this is the same person who weeks ago came out saying that superdelegates should vote as their states voted-but when asked if he meant that Ted Kennedy should be compeled to vote for Hillary (since Massachusetts went to her) Obama began to back and fill.

    Also, I have published all the comments from you that I have received. If you sent one with a link, it didn’t take.

  11. Pingback: Obama, Financing, and Walking the Talk « Renaissance Ruminations

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