Saturday, February 11, 2012

On Unilateral Disarmament

Those who know me are aware that I've worked with non-ideological, good government non-profits like Common Cause to strip away the influence of money in politics. I truly believe that buying political influence is the most pernicious development in US Politics (well, that and the use of the filibuster in the Senate). I also believe that the Citizens United Supreme Court decision ranks right up there with Bush v Gore, Plessy v Ferguson, and the Dred Scott decision as the worst in American history. Unfortunately however, the cat is out of the bag and Super PACs are a reality in American campaign finance in 2012. Thus, as much as I hate the role of campaign donations in American elections (and particularly the influence of the finance, defense, energy, and healthcare industries), it is the height of absurdity to suggest that the Obama campaign should forego the use of SuperPacs as former Senator and campaign finance reformer Russ Feingold does here. I have never, and will never, be a proponent of unilateral disarmament. These are the rules of the game and we shall play by these rules, as dismaying as they may well be. I mean, if you're the manager of the Angels, and you hate the DH rule, you don't hit your pitcher as a matter of principle. It's absurd, it's idiotic, and it does long-term damage to your own long term aims. It is not hypocritical to work within the system at hand, even if you object to specific rules that govern the system. One can legitimately criticize Citizens United, criticize the use and existence of Super PACs, and still create and empower a Super PAC to campaign on your own behalf. You do not lose credibility if you do so. Hell, you can create a Super PAC to lobby against the Citizens United decision, up to and including the passage of an amendment to the United States Constitution banning Super PACs. (This is in fact the kind of behavior we are seeing with the Colbert Super PAC). Listen, I'm not making exceptions or engaging in partisan rationalization. I think Democrats should use the filibuster if (when) they lose the Senate even though I despise the filibuster and find it to be a fundamental threat to democratic governance in general and progressive legislation in particular. But I also think Republicans can brag about earmarks and pork barrel projects that they bring back home to their districts, even if they hate the process by which these appropriations are budgeted. It's the current rules of the game and its perfectly fair for Republicans to object to the practice but wield the benefits of the existing standards (However, it is important to note that this standard does not apply to Republican representatives who rail against government spending, claiming it hurts the local economy, but who then credit pork barrel spending for creating local jobs. That is a case in which representatives cannot, and should not, have it both ways. You can't claim stimulus spending hurts other Americans but helps employ, say, local Houstonians).
This does not mean we stop fighting to reform the campaign finance system. Hell, I don't know how we fix American governance without doing so. At least on the state level, I think the public financing of elections are our best way forward. However, I don't think public financing is feasible at the national level (as presidential candidates will begin to opt-out anyway - see Obama 2008). Even seems to be waving the white flag. But clearly something must be done to reduce the influence of billionaire bankers, oil conglomerates and media empires. Otherwise, we are going to see some shitty legislation continue to funnel down the turnpike (cough, cough SOPA). But Obama turning down Super PAC money doesn't get us any closer to that solution. Yes, his administration is made-up of some pretty terrible corporate lackeys with deep connections to the industries they are supposed to regulate. But the alternatives, who promise to strike down healthcare reform and the gutted down Dodd-Frank legislation on their first days of office, are much, MUCH, worse.

1 comment:

  1. As Rand Blimes pointed out, it's a prisoner's dilemma. You can't expect the Obama team to take the "sucker's" payoff for no reason. Further, not using Super Pacs hurts him and other Democrats, possible enough so that they lose in November. What do you think the best way to get rid of Super Pacs is? Have a Democratic president and members of the legislature who actively fight against it, or have a one-term president who can say, "see, I told you there bad, but at least I stood on principle"?