Let’s just dip our fingers in purple ink and pose for photos now that voting has the same significance for us as it had for those Iraqis who got conned into thinking they were participating in some grand democratic experiment.
Our own elections, the ones our government has modeled for the world, are a hoax. What other word should we use to describe this year’s presidential election, whose outcome will turn on which party’s super PACs gets the most generous bribes from billionaires? The Republicans, enabled by decisions of a Supreme Court they still control, were the first out of the gate and are far more culpable in destroying our system of popular governance. But the Democrats, no less committed to winning at any cost to political principle, have now jumped in.
The generally reserved New York Times editorial page responded to the Obama campaign’s decision to seek super PAC funding with a scathing editorial headlined “Another Campaign for Sale.” The Times reminded that Barack Obama, in his State of the Union speech two years ago, called out the Supreme Court justices sitting before him over their decision to free special interests from campaign spending limits. “I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests,” Obama said then. “They should be decided by the American people.” But sadly, as the Times editorial noted this week, “On Monday, the President abandoned that fundamental principle and gave in to the culture of the Citizens United decision that he once denounced as a ‘threat to our democracy.’ ”
Monday was the day the Obama campaign sent out an e-mail announcing that members of the president’s administration would solicit funds for Priorities USA Action, one of the super PACs that can now, thanks to the Supreme Court decisions that Obama had castigated, raise unlimited funds in an effort to sway the election.
Just as the super political action committee supporting Republican primary contender Newt Gingrich had raised $10 million from Nevada gambling kingpin Sheldon Adelson and his wife, The Wall Street Journal reported that the Obama campaign set its sights on media mogul Haim Saban.
A backer of Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries in 2008, Saban had not subsequently supported Obama because of criticisms over the president’s actions toward Israel. Perhaps because the president has done nothing to effectively pressure the Israeli government to make any concessions toward Palestinian self-determination, Saban recently made his first contribution to Obama and in a written statement Tuesday said, “We are looking at all the Super PACs at the moment, will surely participate, but haven’t decided on the details.”
Saban may be one of the more idealistic mega-donors the pro-Obama Priorities USA Action PAC is now courting. Less savory, if one cares about the hold that Wall Street has exerted over this administration, are some of the top donors Obama aides met with Tuesday to urge that they contribute to the PAC. The list included Hamilton E. James, the president of the huge private equity firm Blackstone, and Robert Wolf, the chairman of UBS Group Americas.
Not that the Republicans should worry, since their list of super PAC supporters is far more powerful. To date, the pro-Democrat PACs have collected a paltry $19 million as compared with the $91 million raised last year by committees controlled by Karl Rove and the allies of the Republican presidential candidates. This disparity is the president’s justification for abandoning his principled opposition to such groups. “We’re not going to fight this fight with one hand tied behind our back,” said Jim Messina, Obama’s campaign manager. “With so much at stake, we can’t allow for two sets of rules. Democrats can’t be unilaterally disarmed.”
That argument would be more compelling if not for the fact that it was the Republican presidential nominee, John McCain, who “disarmed” by accepting public funding in the last election. Obama subverted what remained of political campaign finance reform by turning instead to private contributions, with the result that major Wall Street interests greatly financed his victory. It is not entirely true that shunning the PACs would have left the president at a disadvantage, since he commands predominant media space by virtue of his office. He could have exploited the fat-cat contributions to Republicans as confirmation that they are servants of the 1 percent that has caused the rest of us so much misery. Once again he has failed to take that case for economic justice to the American people and instead validated the Republican assault on what remains of our democracy.