Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Clueless In D.C.?

It's looking more and more like the Obama camp is under siege. It seems that every day the administration trots out some mystifying argument against the opposition. Or yet another erstwhile sympathetic pundit writes a column comparing the president to everybody's favorite whipping boy, Jimmy Carter. Or Obama's handlers revive the terrifying specter of George W. Bush.

There is an old saying in politics that if you don't have the facts on your side, then find a wedge issue. That's what the Republicans did most recently in 2008. After all, why talk about Iraq and the economy when you can rail against ACORN or gay marriage?

Now Obama is doing much the same thing. His villain du jour? The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which Obama and VP Biden insist is using foreign funds to influence the midterm elections. As the Columbia Journalism Review has pointed out, this is pretty much a non-scandal lacking any substantive evidence.

There was a very telling moment (see video above) on Face The Nation on Sunday when host Bob Schieffer asked Obama advisor David Axelrod, "Is this the best you can do?" The host then further asked, "Mr. Axelrod, do you have any evidence that it’s anything other than peanuts?" To which Axelrod responded:
Well, do you have any evidence that it’s not, Bob? The fact is that the Chamber has asserted that, but they won’t release any information about where their campaign money is coming from.
You know you're in trouble when you resort to demanding that your opponent prove he no longer beats his wife. Unemployment is still pushing 10%, the president's approval ratings are in the 40s, his major accomplishments are unpopular, few Democratic congressional candidates want his help and the most sought-after Democratic stump speaker is Bill Clinton. And, of course, absolutely no one fears Obama.

And to top it off, Obama is faced with the likelihood of a Republican-controlled House of Representatives in January. Now we're supposed to be worried that there might be some foreign money in our elections?

There seems to be a developing consensus — even among some of the Democratic elites — that Obama and his people are simply out of their league when it comes to navigating the roiling political waters of the capital. Witness this fairly devastating piece from Time's Mark Halperin, the non-partisan journalist who co-authored a seminal book on the brilliant 2008 Obama campaign.

At this point, the only thing that will save Obama between now and 2012 is a robust and rebounding economy. Sorry ... but right now, I just don't see that happening.


  1. Or this may be projecting. Accuse your adversary of the crime you yourself committed. Perhaps they are worried about the inevitable Republican majority hearings. High on the list is the FEC violations during the last presidential cycle where Obama was clearly taking non-US credit card payments. See... everyone does it!

  2. At the 3:20 mark in the video when Bob said "Do you..." I half expexed him to say "Do you.. even hear yourself right now? Are you serious?"

  3. Fred, I got the impression that Schieffer almost hesitated to ask the question because he knew it would embarrass Axelrod. Still, sometimes old Bob can cut to the chase with a good one.
    Jake, perhaps you're right. Obama raised something like $750 million for his 2008 election campaign. Are we to believe that money is any cleaner than funds from the Chamber, which is really a moderate outfit? The whole things has the whiff of desperation.

  4. Terry, Bob Schieffer wasn't hesitating - it was a dramatic pause. That whole segment of his interview was building up that question. It seems to me that the Dems are barking up the wrong tree with this late strategy, but I think the argument is valid. Political contributions should be transparent. Don't you agree?

  5. Peter, you could very well be right about Schieffer's pause being well planned. Sometimes his folksiness can be disarming.
    To answer your question on transparency, I agree with you completely. Apparently, McCain-Feingold does not require the level of disclosure that Obama and his people are demanding. Maybe it should, but this is the wrong fight for Obama to pick.
    Normally, the president and his allies in Congress would run on their accomplishments, but those accomplishments are not popular, so "foreign money" is what we get.

  6. Terry:

    I agree that we need more transparency. We've been trying to regulate the amounts donors can give since Watergate, and the slop just keeps getting deeper. We should mandate complete transparency, not how much people can give. Neither party, though, is in favor of that because they both benefit from the system as is.
    We all remember how historic Obama's record-breaking Internet fundraising was, and how it was such a "grass-roots" effort since so many donations were small, under $200. Coincidentally, that was also the amount at which stricter disclosure rules kicked in. Who knows where all that money came from?

  7. If we really want to make campaigns fair, we would restrict advertisements to an equal amount for all candidates. Have more debates so we could actually learn what they have to say and restrict the time to campaign to 6 weeks before an election. Perhaps if there was less campaigning there would be more time spent actually reading the bills being voted on. We are two years away from Obamas next run and he is already campaigning. As soon as a candidate wins a seat they are back trying to win the next election, instead of concentrating on making a country that follows the principals of our founding fathers.
    Oh and get ride of some of the wasteful departments in Government as well, FTC, FDA, DOE, and a few more that i don't have the acronyms on my tongue right now,

    Simon McDonald

  8. Hi Simon,
    Nice to hear from you. Many of your suggestions about campaigns make sense but would present constitutional problems in the Supreme Court. Those kinds of limits (e.g. 6 weeks of campaigning before a general election) are routinely practiced in Europe and Canada. But I suspect we would have to change our constitution to do that here.
    The wasteful department I think could be eliminated is the U.S. Department of Education. Federal spending amounts to a tiny percentage of the total anyway, so why do we need this huge department? Only the gods of spending know!