Senator Barack Obama has once again proved that he is still the most forward thinking and optimistic-though perhaps na’ve-policy maker in Washington, DC. The junior senator from Illinois, and presidential hopeful, proposed on February 7 that this great nation go back to basics for its presidential elections. Nothing grand, mind you; just that we go back to a system where everyone gets a fair shake and is on equal footing.
Obama challenged his fellow presidential hopefuls to forego private fundraising in favor of the public election financing system. Under the current system, any candidate may-and likely will-eschew public funds if that candidate feels that he or she can raise more money from private donors. This kind of popularity contest style campaign management seems at fierce odds with “The American Way”-namely, that anyone can be president, if his or her ideas are strong enough.
Any grandson of a Nazi sympathizer can raise tens of millions of dollars, but that doesn’t necessarily make that person the best to run our country.
The plan espoused by Sen. Obama makes sense for a couple reasons. The first is that when you take private money out of the electoral equation, you also remove much of the “shadiness” of the entire affair. It would be hard to imagine a candidate taking money from executives at Philip Morris and Halliburton being able to remain neutral on tobacco and defense issues. Congress has enough lobbying to deal with.
It would be helpful if we could even pretend to believe that the Chief Executive didn’t have to deal with this corporate nonsense as much. As much as it may seem to be to the contrary, this country is not supposed to be governed “for the conglomerate, by the conglomerate.”
A more reasonable expectation of a publicly funded electoral system, though, would be that the best ideas, not the biggest war chest, will win. If the American people really believe that privatizing everything, from healthcare to social security to Congress, and that wars without cause are good policy, that would be one thing. But if the winning candidate only wins because he had more cash for ad time, that is a travesty of democracy. In fact, that’s not an election; that’s network sweeps.
Obama’s plan for a gentleman’s agreement between the two party’s nominees will never happen. One candidate will certainly have more money, and that candidate will ask why he should give up his advantage. That does not mean Obama’s head is not in the right place. He may be too na’ve to realize how Washington works, but he’s enough of a visionary to know how it should work. Really, $85 million is more than enough for a general election campaign.
Sure, we might have to do without baseless attack ads, but I don’t know who will mind much, other than Karl Rove. I am told there are many situations where private funding is simply better than public (or so I’m told, anyway-please forward me examples). Elections, however, are not one of them.
Obama is right, and it is my sincere hope that he or another na’ve politician has the cojones to propose legislation that would make this proposed gentleman’s agreement a law.
Patrick Gibbons is a senior majoring in political science. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.