Funding the indies: Obama says, Don't

T.A. Barnhart

Probable Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama is moving to cut off funding to independent political groups, urging his donors to channel their political funding through his campaign. Ben Smith, in Politico:

Senator Barack Obama's campaign is steering the candidate's wealthy supporters away from independent Democratic groups, calling into question what had been expected to be the groups' central role in this year's Democratic offensive against Senator John McCain.


"From the beginning of this race Obama has told supporters that if they want to help his effort, they should do so through his campaign," said Obama spokesman Bill Burton, who confirmed that Pritzker has told donors not to give to the groups. "And he means exactly what he says."

Nothing wrong with this, of course: It's the job of any campaign to get as much of the pie as possible: funding, message, volunteers, campaigning. With the stakes as high as they are in a presidential election -- we are, after all, talking about the next Commander-in-Chief and the person who'll name several Supreme Court justices -- Obama and his team want to control this huge juggernaut to whatever extent is possible. There will be plenty they cannot control, so reducing the uncontrolables makes sense.

Not being a member of the Obama campaign, however, I have different objectives for the coming year. Electing him president is the most important thing we can and must do in 2008, but it’s not the only thing. So there may be times when what matters to me is not what’s going to matter to the campaign. Other people, whose support of Obama is incidental to their long-term goals, may be sympathetic to his campaign's understandable wishes but unwilling to abandon programs they see as essential to moving forward with a more democratic politics. And there are plenty of us, from different perspectives and for different reasons, who believe that there will be a need throughout the general election for messages not controlled from Chicago.

But we’re not the campaign. We’re not hired with the sole purpose of electing Barack Obama president. For that matter, I don’t think his sole purpose is getting elected. David Axelrod and David Plouffe, on the other hand, may want to see some other good things happen, but their job is to win the election. The three of them, for a variety of reasons, desire to keep the 527s from going off and doing their own thing.

Some of the reasons given for the Obama campaign's work to contain and control message are more cynical than I am. Smith explains that some think Obama is trying to undercut groups headed by people like David Brock and John Podesta who have close ties to the Clintons. And throughout the article is the insinuation that Obama is trying to become the Al Capone of Democratic politics. I don't see any evidence of darker motives, and certainly nothing in his background would indicate that he's interested in being the kingpin. I don't see this as anything more than a campaign trying to control as much of their message as possible.

That control has been, Smith writes, very effective to date:

Obama’s campaign has been remarkably effective so far this year at maintaining a coherent message, built around Obama’s biography and his appeal for a new kind of politics. Part of his success has been tight message discipline: The campaign has been virtually leak-free, and the line of control from Obama to his chief strategist David Axelrod to campaign manager (and Axelrod business partner) David Plouffe is unchallenged.

Many involved in the independent efforts find it hard to quibble with that success, and may have second thoughts about continuing that work over Obama’s explicit objection.

That’s going to end very soon. Now that the primary is just about wrapped up -- in the past week, he’s gained far more in super delegate endorsements than Hillary’s nine-delegate “win” in West Virginia -- the focus will be on defeating John McCain. And while most of those who oppose McNasty and the GOP recognize that Obama is a superior campaigner who can hold his own, they also know he will frequently not get a chance to do his own holding. The video on Good Morning America of an idiot woman in West Virginia saying she thought Obama was lying when he called himself a Christian demonstrates how much of the message is beyond his campaign’s grasp. Two months of Jeremiah Wright, and this woman still thinks Obama is a Muslim.

So, the thinking goes among supporters outside the campaign, we have to provide cover for the nominee. We have to undermine their messages, bring the attack to them. It ought to be clear to everyone that Obama, Axelrod and Plouffe will not fight dirty. There has been no use of Monica Lewinsky even as Hillary regurgitated Wright and presses the case that Obama can’t overcome enough white bigotry to win. Obama will fight damn hard, but he won’t do unto the neocons what they are sure to do to him.

That’s what the 527s will do, if necessary, but it’s the kind of politics Obama is trying to eliminate. Those types of strategies are part of the divide-and-conquer (and then beat their corpses beyond recognition with piles of lobbyist money) tactics that are Obama’s primary targets in this campaign. So, continuing to remain consistent to his own values, he’s calling for his donors not to support those groups. Not because they are bad or because he’s afraid John Podesta will undermine him for Hillary in some sick way; just because he wants to get rid of that kind of politics and does not want to win that way.

Ok, I’m fool enough to take him at his word. But you don’t change the world for the better by hoping it will just kind of happen, or that enough of the bad guys get killed. You start by believing it is possible, and then you live by that belief as if it is true.

Unfortunately, we have not gotten to the place where this the way of life in American politics. It’s still just 2008, and American politics is in transition from the old to the new politics. In the past ten years, we’ve watched the new politics being born: From MoveOn to Dean for America to 2006 to Obama: it’s growing out there, people-powered and not following a leader but providing their leaders with somewhere to go with the millions of supporters right there, standing by their side. But we’re not there yet. Hillary’s old-time politics cost her this nomination (her decision to stonewall her vote on Iraq was the ultimate in old-timing, a decision based not on her values or on morality but on what would serve her campaign best). Obama’s rejection of that kind of politics is, as Smith notes, transforming, at the very least, the Democratic Party.

But what about us? We, the people. The folks on the ground, the ones who’ll give $25 to Obama and then another $25 to David Brock. Do we heed Obama’s words and shun those groups, or do we accept harsh “reality” and help fight fire with fire? Those of us who share Obama’s vision of a new politics, do we go all-in with him or hedge our bets? The pot is huge; the possibilities, both for success and failure, are tangible and tantalizing.

Who is right? Brock and Podesta, or Obama? Can a positive, person-to-person, issue-oriented campaign win in 2008? Can we win this fighting clean?

Or will it take a knee to the neocons’ groin?

  • Bill R. (unverified)

    This is an interesting question. I am inclined to think that one should play on a level playing field. Obama's campaign has been fueled by small donors, and will continue to be. But rich donors can help and counterbalance the attacks by the R's 527s, people like George Soros, who want to help. Personally I want to consider it more closely, but I am inclined to think that it's a mistake to leave out the option of 527s as long as the other side is going to use them. It doesn't have to be dirty.

  • Chuck Butcher (unverified)

    Personally I'd like to hear lots about Chuck Keating and others of influence on McSame. Barack won't go there.

  • Dan (unverified)

    I think this is the campaign trying to claim the high ground early on against the Republican 527's but I doubt it is going to work.

    There are a lot of great progressive groups out there not attached to the campaign that have been here before his administration and will be afterwards too, to cut them off is going to be very hard to do to say the least. It is through these progressively minded groups that we've been fighting the fight so far, and no one should be expected to abandon any one of those groups for a single candidate, as great as that candidate is.

    I can see why they want to control the message as much as possible but I question its practicality.

  • sandra (unverified)

    Gosh, he hasn't got the nomination yet and you are already pulling off your costumes and masks to reveal you are the equivilent of the right wing of the republican party- and it wasn't New Politics at all-but the left wing of the democratic party-smelling exactly like the despicable, deplorable nutty republicans-which is why we would lose the general election.

  • James X. (unverified)

    Obama doesn't want "more of the pie." These are billionaires. After they've given $2300, and have gotten their friends to give $2300, they can give no more to Obama. It's not like if these billionaires gave $50,000 to a 527 they'd have nothing left for Obie. I think Obama does want control over their message, though, and believe they have more than enough money to drown out McCain. I really do think Obama wants a more positive campaign than some 527s might like to create.

  • James X. (unverified)

    Gosh, Sandra, you found me out. I'm not really an Obamabot, I actually care first about principles like a woman's right to choose, no needless wars, health care for all, taking responsibility for the Earth's welfare, and other hideous features of the "left wing of the Democratic party" that my costume and mask were hiding.

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    Sandra: Welcome back from the coast. Congratulations on WV. Gotta feel proud.

    This is a tough call and not without real and assumed risk. But what if ? What if we went along that with which appeals to our better nature ? I assume most people, regardless of political stripe, really are weary of the same old , same old. But. But we still see it because it works with so many voters. Part of me wants to think " No, people have become more savvy thn that." But then I hear people from WV talk about how " I can't vote for anyone with the name of Hussein..." ( M. Carlson/AP Wire) or watch some union guy who's pension has probably been jacked discuss with Steve Kroft why he'd be reluctant to vote for Obama ( who his union endorsed) because he "heard he was a Muslim."

    This requires a significant leap of faith.

  • Bill R. (unverified)

    Speaking of the Muslim smear, McLatchy News did an expose on that. Turns out it was a Clintonite that got that e-mail campaign going, someone retired from intelligence work. I've even seen that Muslim baiting thing coming from a Clintonista here on Blue Oregon. Real uplifting! But hey, goes along with the modeling from their candidate, who is courting the "hard working, white people." Hillary Clinton, the George Wallace of 2008 in pant suits. "Segregation now, segregation forever," especially when one of them wants to be president.

    The nomination is his, Sandra. Deal with it!

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    Layoff the "pant suit" thing, would you, Bill?

    What John McCain and Barack Obama wear are also "pant suits".

  • Larry (unverified)

    Funny that many of the same people who call out White Bigotry against Obama (as right they should) have no problem (in fact don't even recognize that they are) promulgating sexist smears like "pant suits" against women.

    Interesting how prejudice is easier identified by looking at others, than looking in the mirror. Kinda like body odor and bad breath, you see it smelling up others but can't see or smell it coming from yourself.

  • Garrett (unverified)

    which is why we would lose the general election.

    The only way we lose the general election is if the corpse of John McCain is somehow reinvigorated by drinking unicorns blood.

    sexist smears like "pant suits" against women.

    Bad fashion is just bad fashion. No two ways around it.

  • Bill R. (unverified)

    Here's the dilemma about 527s:

  • Bill R. (unverified)

    "Pantsuits" OMG.. Misogyny... OMG..... Victim.. OMG.. !!

    Clintonites... that's pathetic! Surely you can do better than that!!

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    "promulgating sexist smears like "pant suits" against women."

    Er? Wha? Hmm?

    If you think that's a sexist smear, blame Talbot's.

  • James X. (unverified)

    Yes, reducing women to their sex and their clothing is sexist. You don't have to be a Hillary supporter to realize that the pant suit is an icon for transgressing supposed gender norms.

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    HC says on Monday , May 13 in West Virginia : " I have been receiving messages of encouragement all day. My favorite is 'It's not over until the lady in the pant suit says it is.' "

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    What does putting "pant suits" after "the George Wallace of 2008" add to the point? A gratuitous gender reference.

    <h2>Bill R., Hillary Clinton has faced a lot of misogyny, mainly from the press/ pundits. (I voted Obama over Hillary's militarism & willingness to play games with genocidal rhetoric).</h2>

    Back to the original post: 1) My immediate reaction is to think "I told you so" to the leaders who structured and endorsement vote in favor of Obama without asking anything from him, like a stronger anti-war position. I'd love to know about their reactions to this.

    2) Given the phenomenal amounts of money Obama has already raised, this is kind of disturbing, just in terms of the expansion of scale of campaign expenditures. Also, n.b. that here he's seeking money from the big donors.

    3) T.A. -- While some 527's do "old time" hit-job politics with negative ads etc., I'm not convinced Obama's claim makes sense. As you point out, much of the popular mobilization and mobilization of mass popular resources has come through independent committees. Why should that stop just because someone who appeals to those values gets elected? The content of new politics isn't just the ideas or values, it's them in action -- the most impressive thing to me about Howard Dean remains that he didn't try to keep Dean for America tied to him personally, but turned it independent into Democracy for America. He doubtless cemented loyalties to him personally into the bargain, because he did the right thing, but that's why he should deserve loyalty.

    4) The independence is also needed to hold Senator Obama accountable, and, insofar as he is responding to progressive impulses and desires emerging from the people, to keep those forces & that creative interaction alive, even pressed further.

    If this reflects a desire on his part to insulate himself from such accountabiity and interaction, that would be troubling.

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    Yes, Hillary has done her best to turn the "pant suit" thing around, much as gay people have taken "dyke" or "faggot" and attempted to reclaim them.

    That doesn't change the sexist nature of the original intent or give everyone else license to perpetuate that.

    Yes, reducing women to their sex and their clothing is sexist. You don't have to be a Hillary supporter to realize that the pant suit is an icon for transgressing supposed gender norms.

    Exactly so. Please note that I'm the one who made the request of Bill and I'm a firm Obama supporter.

    Homework for Garrett--just why is it considered bad fashion for women to wear pants?

    Again, what John McCain and Barack Obama wear are also "pant suits". Heard them called that lately?

    Homework for anyone else who doesn't see it: next time you post here and mention some male politician you support, work in a reference to his "pant suit" and see how it strikes you.

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    I agree with James X. once again. Obama's concerns about independent expenditures are obvious, it seems to me. It's not about ducking accountability or the money itself.

    Independent expenditures are where Swift-boating and other "politics of personal destruction" run rampant. Obama has based his whole campaign on doing things differently. He'll get responsibility in the public mind for independent personal attacks on John McCain. If it's bad enough, it could neutralize his whole strategy.

  • Alberto Borges (unverified)


    Can exist a demotratic party without the blue collar workers and their unions?

    Hillary has more support from the blue collar workers than Obama and that is an element of vital importance for a democratic party.

    Hillary Clinton had wons the larger states in the union(those states are very important because are centers of economic and political powers). The superdelegate can't ignore the blue collar workers vote and if they do that I think their are wrong and going away from their mission and compromise with the blue collar workers.

    Florida and Michigan votes should be counted. The Florida and Michigan voters should not suffer the consequence of the mistakes made for the party leadership on those states.

  • Alberto Borges (unverified)

    I think many people in this country are behind on the time and are thinking like the people were thinking 2 or 3 centuries ago.

    Sorry to say that. Alberto

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    Alberto : There had been an earnestness to your posts. While I disagree with the content I welcomed your input. It is now becoming weirdly repetitive. Get some new materials.

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