Monday evening I received a blast email to past Obama supporters from President Obama's campaign manager Jim Messina, that henceforth the Obama reelection campaign would work closely with pro-Democratic Super PACs to raise unlimited campaign contributions from large corporations, unions, and individual millionaires and billionaires.
While from an extremely cynical, short-term "pragmatic" view of the corrupt world of bought and paid for elections we live in I could understand the decision, I found it extremely depressing and disheartening.
This is decidedly NOT The Change We Believed In.
It may be true that you can't bring a knife to a gun fight and expect to come out alive. But if the guns that are bought and paid for by gambling syndicates, you'll owe them your life and be eternally in their debt.
By accepting Super PAC money for himself and Democratic House and Senate candidates, Obama is all but guaranteeing that the special interests of the richest 0.01% will dominate the interests of the 99% and Obama's second term -- if he's reelected and achieves a Democratic congressional majority -- will accomplish little to right the balance. We will continue to have a bought and paid for federal government; as during the Clinton administration and Obama's first term, any "reforms" will be of a decidedly small-bore nature that won't threaten the fundamental interests of the Too Big to Fail Banks, big Pharma, the insurance industry, the fossil fuel energy industry, the military-industrial complex, or any other big money interest group.
If Obama is going to acquiesce in bringing Super PAC guns to his 2012 presidential fight in order to battle the Republicans' Super PAC guns, he must make it a centerpiece of his election campaign that this will be the last American election in which such weapons will be legal.
Obama must make it clear that the single most important item on his second term agenda will be to lead a massive citizen's movement to amend the Constitution so that it's no longer legal for corporations, and individual millionaires and billionaires (along with their bought and paid for lobbyists) to bribe elected officials to do their will through massive campaign contributions (or threats to give massive campaign contributions to their opponents) whether directly or indirectly through fake "independent" PACS.
And I don't mean an occasional passing reference in a speech to the need for campaign finance reform. I mean an all-out full court press in Obama's reelection campaign to make saving American democracy from the legalized auction to buy politicians the central issue of the campaign and the second presidency.
Unless the pervasive influence of big money in elections is ended, America will never be able to solve its biggest pressing problems, whether debt, taxes, financial regulation, education, health care, energy, or the environment. As centrist New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has written, the best America will be able to come up with is "sub-optimal" solutions, since
...money in politics has become so pervasive that lawmakers have to spend most of their time raising it, selling their souls to those who have it or defending themselves from the smallest interest groups with deep pockets that can trump the national interest.
And this should be of paramount concern whether you're conservative, moderate, or liberal. If you're a conservative who wants to cut deficits, stop future bank bailouts, and end Obamacare, know that earmarks are bought and paid for by special interests, the banks fund both political parties, and big insurance and drug companies played a key role in shaping Obamacare to their interests. If you're a moderate who wants to see a "grand bargain" along the lines proposed by the Simpson-Bowles Commission chairmen to reduce the deficit by 25% tax increases and 75% cuts to social programs, Medicare and Social Security, your tax proposals will be fought by contributions from millionaires, corporations and hedge funds and your social program cuts will be fought by contributions from unions and liberal interest groups. If you're a progressive and want to see fairer taxes, a restoration of Glass-Steagall, a public option or single-payer healthcare, or major environmental efforts to curb global warming, know that such major reforms will be blocked by the power of big campaign contributors.
The American people understand the corruption of the political system in their hearts, which is why they've become so cynical about politics and hold politicians of both parties in such low regard. A recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey found that 86% of the public thinks elected officials in the nation's capital are mostly influenced by the pressure they receive from campaign contributors and that 2/3 say elections are usually for sale to the candidate who can raise the most money, with less than one in three saying that elections are generally won by the best candidate.
An Obama campaign that made restoring democracy and ending political bribery a central campaign issue would be massively popular and would gain popular support across the political spectrum. An ABC New-Washington Post poll found that 85% of Democrats, 76% of Republicans, and 81% of independents opposed the Citizens United ruling. An Obama campaign which made its centerpiece ending the undue influence of money in politics could energize Democrats, win over independents, and even peel off some Republicans who are disgusted by the Super PACs who have dominated and distorted their primary.
Even Obama's last Republican opponent, John McCain, denounced Citizens United, telling ABC News,
We had campaign contribution limitations for a reason and the United States Supreme Court basically did away with all that and we're going to pay a heavy price for that and I also guarantee that there will be scandals sooner or later.
If Obama runs on a program of restoring American democracy and abolishing the system of legal bribery, and multi-millionaire Mitt Romney opposes these steps, Obama will only increase his chances of victory.
Do I believe that Obama -- surrounded as he is by corporate advisers -- will have the vision and courage to do this? Not really. He may mention campaign finance reform from time to time as an aside. But I doubt he will have the strength and foresight to put the restoration of American democracy and the end of the auction-based electoral system at the center of his campaign and his second term.
Unfortunately, our campaign finance system has created a system with two corporate-owned political parties, a slightly more center/left one (led by Obama) and a far-right one dominated by the Tea Party. I don't have a great deal of faith that Obama has the strength and vision to break from this system.
Given the choice between one presidential candidate who supports weak financial regulation vs. one who supports almost none at all, who supports weak environmental regulation vs. almost none at all, who supports small cuts to our bloated military budget vs. one who wants to increase it, who's for slightly higher taxes on millionaires and billionaires vs. one who wants to cut them, I will reluctantly go into the voting booth and pull the lever for Obama again.
But if Obama takes Super PAC money and doesn't make the centerpiece of his campaign making this type of political bribery illegal in his second term, then I will NOT, as I did in 2008, contribute to or work for his campaign. I will put all my time and spare cash into building a mass movement to amend the Constitution to restore American democracy and end the auctions we call elections in which the candidate with the most money wins 94% of the time.