OBAMA AND PUBLIC FINANCING….Apparently John McCain is going to try to make a big deal out of Barack Obama’s pledge a few months ago to “aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election.” Paul Waldman thinks Obama ought to opt out of that pledge by citing 527s as an excuse:
The argument would go something like this: “I said I would ‘aggressively pursue an agreement to preserve a publicly financed election’ with my Republican opponent. And I’m happy to have our two campaigns sit down and see if there is a way to make the debate between me and John McCain, within the publicly financed system. But as long as there are ‘independent’ Republican groups out there planning on spending hundreds of millions of dollars attacking me, it would be pretty foolish to lock myself into a spending limit that makes it impossible to respond. So I ask Senator McCain: Can you call off the right-wing hit squad? If you can do that, I’ll be only too happy to say we should both accept public financing. But if you can’t, I’m not going to sign away my ability to compete.”
McCain would squawk, of course, but the real question is whether it would be enough to satisfy the press.
For the record, I think Obama made a pretty clear promise to accept public financing in the general election as long as McCain did likewise, and the 527 dodge is just that: a dodge. At the same time, I also think Obama was foolish to make his promise in the first place.
But whatever Obama does, I think one thing is clear: he should do it quickly. If he’s willing to accept public financing, he should say so straight away and put this whole thing to bed. If he’s not, he should lay out his reasons and make a clear and unequivocal statement about it right now. It won’t hurt him even slightly in the primaries — Hillary doesn’t have much of an opening to attack on this issue, and if she’s foolish enough to try it might actually help Obama by giving him a chance to show that he’s tough enough for bare-knuckled campaigning too — and no matter how the press reacts the issue will die quickly as long as he takes a firm position. If McCain tries to bring it up later, Obama can then wave it off as old news, a tactic that has almost a 100% success record with the mainstream media.
I’m mystified that the Obama campaign doesn’t seem to get this. What do they possibly gain by allowing this issue to remain in the news cycle for weeks or months? They should get off the stick.