Friday, June 20, 2008

To err is human; to acknowledge, honest

Ever since I developed a direct stake in American policy (i.e., started paying taxes here) and an interest in its politics, the country has been governed by a Republican administration and guided (mostly) by legislatures dominated by the same party. To me, the only thing worse than the numerous failings and transgressions of the current national government has been the stubborn state of denial that most everyday Republicans seem to have embraced. I have often wondered during the past few years: would it be any different if the Democrats were in that place? No administration - Democratic or Republican - will ever be perfect, but will Democratic supporters adopt a more objective and honest stance when critiquing their own?

It seems likely that a few months from now, Democrats will win the White House and strengthen their numbers in the legislature as well. However, I needn't wait that long to find my answer. Behold the Obama public financing controversy.

A quick recap: As part an electoral reform effort started about three decades ago, presidential candidates are entitled to some public funds for their campaign provided they promise to limit their total spending to a certain amount. Sometime last year, Obama announced his principled support of the public financing system and his willingness to accept public funds were he to win the Democratic nomination.

Yesterday, Obama pulled back from that position, claiming that the public financing system is "broken" and that he expected McCain's campaign to game the system anyway.

Of course, the system is as broken today as it was last year (when he made the well-informed judgment to embrace it), and Republicans are as crooked today as they were yesterday. Obama shouldn't have had any surprises there. Arguably, the only thing that has changed is that he now sits on an unprecedented war chest that possibly surpasses his own expectations and affords him the luxury of turning up his nose at the public money.

Now, here is where the fun starts. Ever since the announcement surfaced yesterday morning, conservative commentators of all shapes and sizes latched on to the issue, calling Obama a liar and all sorts of names for "betraying the American people". There is nothing new here - this is the same bunch of idiots who yellowed their pants when Obama stopped wearing an American flag lapel pin. What is more amusing to me is how Democrats have reacted to the public financing withdrawal. Across the board, Dems are bending backwards to hush up the issue, mumbling the same nonsensical rhetoric that Obama did to justify his decision. I heard a conservative radio show host ask five Obama-supporting callers in a row if they thought what Obama did equaled betrayal of his own commitment; none agreed. As we speak, high-nosed editorials are being rushed into offices of finest of newspapers rationalizing Obama's withdrawal. This defend-Obama-at-all-cost attitude is much too reminiscent of Bush's bunch.

I am no lover of the public financing system, and I believe that if McCain had achieved the same kind of fund-raising as Obama did, he would probably have withdrawn from public financing too. Yet, a spade should be called a spade. Obama's withdrawal certainly does amount to flip-flopping and borders on being a renege; there is no news about the dysfunctionality of the system that Obama hadnt already heard when he committed to it in 2007.

In my opinion, Obama supporters of all kinds - the editorializing types as well as everyday Democrats among my friends - have shown poor form in their reaction to the withdrawal. I dearly hope that is it just a blip on the screen and not a curtain raiser.

PS: Blogger's spellcheck kept picking up "Obama" when I ran it on this post. Heads should roll for this. No?

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