Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Political Musings: Obama Backs Super-PAC, Illustrates Need for Reform

Four years ago, President Barack Obama ran on a platform of "change we can believe in". He kept hammering home the point over and over again that Washington, and that we should trust an outsider like him to fix what was ailing our country and our government. The American public by and large bought into Obama's campaign, and they elected him by a huge margin over Republican nominee John McCain.

With the 2012 election looming, most experts are pointing to it as a referendum mostly on the economy, so the Obama campaign is already revving into high gear to highlight the positive things that the president has done in that regard. Whether it be bringing jobless rates down to their lowest levels since 2007, helping the stock market to its highest levels since before 9/11, or the successful killing of Osama bin Laden, the president and his campaign are already putting their financial ducks in a row in order to ensure that the American people know full well everything that Obama has done in his term in office.

One thing that you likely won't see on any Obama '12 literature is the landmark decision that the Supreme Court reached in the case of Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission. In this decision, the Court essentially ruled that corporations are viewed as people under the context of campaign finance law, and therefore their spending on elections is protected as free speech. In essence, corporations are legally allowed to spend as much money as they want to support any political viewpoint they want, just like you or I is legally able to do.

Obviously, this presents a problem to voters, because they obviously don't have the type of buying power that big corporations have. Therefore, a corporation's free speech is a lot more influential than the average Joe's, and quite frankly, that isn't right.

This brings us to our current issue, which is the issue of so-called Super PAC (Political Action Committees). These groups cannot technically donate money to a specific candidate, but as is the American way, they get around this restriction by attacking other candidates while not explicitly supporting another one. This has already become an issue in several of the early primary states, with Super-PAC's backing Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney having a lot of fun firing salvos at both men.

With these groups already raising millions of dollars, the Obama campaign has applied the same logic it did when it went without matching funds for the campaign of 2008, and decided that if Republicans are going to rely on Super-PAC's, then so will they. They have announced that they will accept funds from a group headed by two former staffers, and they hope that they can match the Republican candidate in funding, whoever that may be.

This reversal in course (Obama previously had refused money from lobbyists, but they can donate in unlimited amounts to Super-PAC's) not only makes Obama look like he cares more about raising boatloads of cash than his own integrity, but it also raises further questions about just how broken the system is. Why should a candidate who smashed all types of records for fundraising in the last election feel the compulsion to raise even more cash by selling out like this?

Unfortunately, Jim Messina, Obama's campaign manager, was right when he said that the campaign essentially had to do this in order to be competitive. "We can't allow for two sets of rules in this election whereby the Republican nominee is the beneficiary of unlimited spending and Democrats unilaterally disarm," is how he put it.

Now, just because Messina was right does not mean that Obama is off the hook from an ideological standpoint on this issue. He has already strained his relationship with tried and true progressives with his lack of action on civil rights for gay couples, his failure to close Guantanomo Bay, and his incursions into countries like Yemen and Pakistan to kill suspected terrorists. Add in to that the Defense Authorization Bill that he signed that pretty much gave the government full authority to detain any American citizen indefinitely if it was believed that they had ties to terrorist groups, and you already have a man who has pissed off his supporters in more ways than one.

This decision to potentially accept lobbyist money is one more example of how Obama is refusing to allow ideology to overcome cold hard rationality, and while that may be an admirable quality in some respects for a chief executive, it is also infuriating in others. Obama has repeatedly gone against the wishes of the more liberal components of the Democratic party, whether on his drawn-out decision to end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in the military or his decision to cut a public option out of the healthcare bill long before it was a true compromise to do so. These moves may come across as centrist when analyzing them from a purely political point of view, but when looking at it through the prism of someone who prides himself on his liberal ideology, they are repeated sell-outs of the way some Democrats think.

Now, there is one way that Obama can salvage his standing on this issue. Even the bluest of blue voters can appreciate that the candidate that we are likely to support has to be given the ability to use all of the tools at his legal disposal in order to ward off a challenge from the Republicans, but there has to be an element of take in this giving of blessing to go against ideology once again. The best, and truthfully only, way for Obama to take some of the sting off of this reversal would be if he came out in support of a constitutional amendment that removes the designation of corporations as "people" that the Supreme Court has enacted.

There has been a small movement brewing to do just such a thing, but it has really failed to gather steam, since the people that would have to pass it are obviously not pre-disposed to getting rid of one of their biggest sources of income and influence. Despite this not being in the interest of the politicians themselves, President Obama needs to live up to the themes that he has trumpeted throughout his career in public office, and even previous to it, and that is that people should have the power, not corporate lackeys with the ability to buy whatever influence they want.

If the case for an amendment changing the definition of a corporation is going to get any traction in this political climate, then someone like the president is going to have to come out in support of it. It's high time that someone actually stand up for voters instead of just using them as instruments to get them elected. This isn't idealism either; this, plain and simple, is something that voters should be demanding in droves, but instead they are focused on protesting whether or not Plan B medication should be available from a vending machine.

Do the right thing, President Obama. Show that you actually give a hoot about the people who voted you into office, and come out in favor of an amendment defining corporations as companies, not people. If not, then don't be surprised if we lump you in with every other money-grubbing politician that is currently slithering through the halls of power. And don't be surprised if your vote total in November is that much lower because of it.

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