20 June 2008

Obama: Damned if He Does, Darned if He Doesn't

Senator Obama has come in for some predictable criticism for his more predictable decision to forgo public funding of his general election campaign and take donations from private citizens. Since he apparently pledged to go public at this point, he's justly chided for copping out. His excuses, or those offered by supporters, are unimpressive; he supposedly needs more money than the public trough provides in order to counter the propaganda of the McCain sympathizers in "527s" or potential "swift-boaters," they say, adding that Obama still depends on public financing, after all, since his money comes mostly from common people rather than from corporations.

At this point in a campaign, neither choice is good. Either one is a capitulation to the rule of money in politics. Obama must either beg for money in order to buy ads, or he can take an allowance from the government in order to buy ads. The real problem is with the need to buy ads. Both Obama and McCain, not to mention the "minor party" candidates, find themselves in the humiliating position of having to pay for the privilege of speaking to most of the American people. Television has imposed this requirement upon them. Before television, a candidate could go on the road and depend upon serious newspapers publishing substantial accounts of his speeches, at no cost to the candidate. Now the networks, apart from C-SPAN, only grudgingly show sound-bite excerpts from speeches. "Public financing" only perpetuates this system. If the government could offer candidates "public access," a free share of airtime provided by networks as a requirement of their franchises, that would be a different story. If either Obama or McCain wants to call himself a reformer, let him propose that idea.

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