07/04/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Broder Leads Off Column On Gerrymandering WIth Pointless, Distorted Shot At Obama

David Broder is up in arms about gerrymandering, and has written all about it in the op-ed pages of the Washington Post today. As far as his take on that issue goes, my only criticism is that his criticism comes a couple of decades later than it should. Other than that, he is more or less right on the merits. As far as gerrymandering goes, anyway. But, as is all too often the way with the Dean of the Beltway, his healthy body of work comes riddled with tumors of nonsense.

In this case, we have this lead paragraph:

When Barack Obama decided last week to throw off the constraints on campaign spending that go with the acceptance of public financing, he was rightly criticized for rigging the system in his favor.

Broder's memory is playing tricks on him, it seems. See, when Obama opted out of taking the $80 some-odd million dollars of "public financing," he was "rightly criticized" (and though I think Obama's decision was the correct one, I'll allow the "rightly" for the sake of argument) for breaking his word, and this was followed by a raft of esoteric lament that this made the Great Agent of Change and Hope "just another politician." And, let's face it, Obama had agreed to work within the system of "public financing," and then reneged.

I cannot recall, however, anyone arguing that Obama had "rigged" a system, and anyway, even if anyone did, there is no way that this point can be argued "rightly," for the simple reason that Obama was legally allowed to opt out of the one system of "public financing" in favor of his own funding mechanism. His opponent, John McCain, is entitled to do the same, right this very minute, should he choose to do so.

Naturally, Obama's choice has potentially given him a large advantage in the general election, but if we're going to set the standard for "rigging the system" at "taking an electoral advantage," we'll be talking about "rigged systems" for the rest of the year.

However, if you want to talk about a candidate "rigging the system" of public finance, there exists a perfect example: John McCain.

McCain opt[ed] into public financing, accepted the spending limits and then profited from that opt-in by securing a campaign saving loan. And then he used some clever, but not clever enough lawyering, to opt back out. And the person charged with saying what flies and what doesn't -- the Republican head of the FEC -- said he's not allowed to do that. He can't opt out unilaterally unless the FEC says he can.

The most generous interpretation of what happened is that McCain's lawyer came up with an ingenious legal two step that allowed him to double dip in the campaign finance system, eat his cake and spend it too. But even if you buy that line, successful gaming of the system doesn't really count as strict adherence. And the point is irrelevant since the head of the FEC -- a Republican -- says McCain cannot do this on his own.

It seems to me that if Broder needed a "campaign corruption" peg for his rant against gerrymandering, he'd have done better with something like:

When John McCain decided to "double dip inthe campaign finance system, without regard to the constraints on campaign spending that go with the acceptance of public financing, he was rightly criticized for rigging the system in his favor.

The only reason this re-write wouldn't work, of course, is that first someone in the media would have had to have criticized McCain for cheating the system in the first place.