As is being discussed all over the traditional and new media this morning, the Obama campaign has embraced SuperPACs, encouraging donors to give to Priorities USA, a fund created by former White house aides. The move is being called a “reversal” and even a “flip flop,” for though Obama had never formally disavowed SuperPACs, he has been one of the leading critics of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which opened the door for such entities. Most famously, Obama took the Supreme Court to task for the decision in his 2010 State of the Union address. On another occasion (that Republicans are now giddily splerking about everywhere), the President called SuperPAC’s “a threat to our democracy.”
My feelings on this are extremely mixed, and I suspect many other liberals feel the same way. On the first hand, I am extremely dismayed by the Citizens United ruling and abhor the existence of SuperPACs. They are truly awful, poisonous political entities that do not merely threaten our democracy, they have made it into a farce. It is truly absurd that campaigns can be kept afloat indefinitely by one individual, as Newt Gingrich’s has. The potential for blackmail and outright bribery opened by the existence of SuperPACs is almost unthinkable. Money has always played an outsize role in politics, and the old system was by no means perfect. In fact, I have long argued in other fora that instituting a mandatory system of public campaign finance is an imperative, and the longer the U.S. government goes without imposing such a system, the more credibility we lose as a representative democracy. That said, at least under the old system, if you wanted to legally bribe a public official, you had to find a bunch of other people that were willing to go along with it. In that way, there was assurance that even if our representatives were being bought, there was some public interest doing the buying. After all, if Senator Doe’s vote is being purchased by, say, the mining industry, there’s at least a semi-plausible argument that the mining industry represents a sizable portion of his constituents and he is representing the people, at least in some roundabout way.
Not so under the post-Citizens United regime. Now, a single individual can go to Senator Doe and say “Vote for Bill X” or “Kill Bill Y in committee” with the promise of an 8-figure SuperPAC check. Worse, a single individual can go to Senator Doe and say, “If you don’t vote for Bill X, I’m going to create an anti-Doe SuperPAC and write it an 8-figure check to bombard your home state with negative ads about you.” No oversight. No accountability. Just super-wealthy individuals nakedly manipulating our government to promote hyper-private interests.
So, yeah, I really don’t like SuperPACs.
That said, I have to support President Obama’s decision to embrace this horrific new tool. My position here mirrors my stance on nuclear weaponry: sure, they’re bad; but they’re a whole lot worse if the other side is the only one who has them. I was one of many liberals who applauded then-Senator Obama’s decision to unilaterally reject public financing of his 2008 campaign, too. For all of the many problems I have with the President (in my estimation, he is too moderate, too quick to compromise, too willing to cede ground in a false and naive vision of bipartisanship, et cetera) I am fundamentally on his side. Obama is, as Wiesman wrote earlier, a pragmatic progressive; one who plays the long game and who ultimately does what’s right for the country, even when he knows there will be a political cost.
I have incredible respect for President Obama and, perhaps more importantly, I have nothing but scorn for the crop of Republicans vying to replace him. Their most likely nominee is thankfully the most palatable, but even he is a political chameleon of the worst kind, displaying no evidence whatsoever of either discernible principles or a backbone with which to support them. Newt Gingrich is a wannabe-autocrat whose conviction in his own genius is exceeded only by his actual idiocy. Rick Santorum is a first-rate theocrat that Iran would be proud to call its own if he belonged to their branch of Semitism. Ron Paul is simply a lunatic in kindly-old-man clothes, a quite possibly actually-racist disciple of Rand and von Mises whose ideas would quite literally be the end of American prosperity as we know it if he ever got the chance to implement them.
So, basically, my point boils down to, “Fuck it, let’s get ours.” There is no room for principle or nobility in the current campaign-finance environment. For progressives like myself who hate Citizens United with every fiber of our being, there’s nothing to do but lie back and think of America; specifically, what America would look like with their puppetmasters pulling the strings instead of our own. The system must be fundamentally changed one day, but until that day, the ends will have to justify the means.