Fire With Fire

Here was the predictable announcement today from Obama campaign manager Jim Messina:

With so much at stake, we can’t allow for two sets of rules in this election whereby the Republican nominee is the beneficiary of unlimited spending and Democrats unilaterally disarm.

Therefore, the campaign has decided to do what we can, consistent with the law, to support Priorities USA in its effort to counter the weight of the GOP Super PAC. We will do so only in the knowledge and with the expectation that all of its donations will be fully disclosed as required by law to the Federal Election Commission.

What this change means practically: Senior campaign officials as well as some White House and Cabinet officials will attend and speak at Priorities USA fundraising events. While campaign officials may be appearing at events to amplify our message, these folks won’t be soliciting contributions for Priorities USA. I should also note that the President, Vice President, and First Lady will not be a part of this effort; their political activity will remain focused on the President’s campaign.

This step is being compared by many to the decision by Obama in 2008 to reject public funds (and the spending limits accompanying them) after promising to play within that system. I don’t see it. For one thing, while Obama and other Democrats have deplored the Supreme Court decision that enabled Super PACs, I haven’t heard him make any specific promise that he would perpetually oppose the creation of one by Democrats. Moreover, in 2008, John McCain was in a position to attack Obama’s “flip-flop” on public financing because he was accepting public funds himself. No Republican candidate is in a position to exhibit innocence with respect to Super PACs.

Sure, GOPers will cry “hypocrisy,” while some goo-goo folks will cluck disapprovingly. And the content of Super PAC ads and other activities on both sides could well become an occasional campaign issue. But the minimal political cost of this fairly obvious decision can’t come close to matching the potential benefit of leveling the playing field. Super PACs have already become a huge factor in this presidential race. Wishing them away won’t do a bit of good, and until such time as the composition of the Supreme Court changes, they will remain an unfortunate but immovable part of the political landscape.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.