Sunday, October 19, 2008

McCain's Economic Crisis

Now we know why America is running out of money:

Everyone is giving all of it to Barack Obama.

It's been an amazing 24 hours for the Obama campaign. First, he drew an incredible 100,000 people to a rally near the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. Remember those amazing pictures of his big rally in Portland last spring? With 65,000 people or so along the river? He blew that away with even more people crowding along the Mississippi this weekend, and then drew another 75,000 to Kansas City. They say that as goes Missouri, so goes the nation. Well, Obama may just take the Show-Me State, and if he does, President Bush will be showing him in to the Oval Office.

Then, this morning, Colin Powell announced that he's endorsing Obama for president. This has been rumored for months, and we thought it might happen at the Democratic National Convention, but many prominent Republicans, including senior members of the Bush family (that means both Presidents Bush) had been imploring Powell not to go public with his support for Obama. He finally decided to, announcing his endorsement on "Meet the Press," and then, well, meeting the press, outside the studio, where he elaborated on his decision. Rush Limbaugh is already dismissing the endorsement, saying Powell is only backing Obama because they're both black, pointing out that he's never endorsed any "white liberal inexperienced politicians." But Powell says it's because he's disappointed in McCain's campaign, disgusted by the focus on Williams Ayers, appalled by the selection of Sarah Palin ("she is not ready to be president") and impressed by Obama's intellectual capacity and calm, thoughtful nature.

Colin Powell doesn't carry the weight he once did, but let's face it: he was the first black National Security Advisor, the first black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the first black Secretary of State. If not for his wife's reluctance, he could easily have been the first African American Vice President, or even President. Not only is he a Republican, but he was the front man for President Bush's ill-advised invasion of Iraq. He's still enormously well-respected and influential. And while they're pooh-poohing it now, you can bet the McCain team would have loved his endorsement, and trumpeted it far and wide if they had gotten it.

So how does Obama top a record-setting rally and a headline-grabbing endorsement? With a simply astounding campaign finance report for the month of September. One day before it's due, Obama campaign manager David Plouffe sent us all a video e-mail, announcing that Obama raised more than $150 million last month. This, on top of the $65 million he raised in August, and the untold millions he's raking in this month, which won't be reported until after Election Day.

A month ago, after Obama pulled in that $65 mill for August, some worried that he would have trouble maintaining that pace. The Republican National Committee had matched him, dollar-for-dollar, that month. John McCain is limited to the $84 million he gets in public money, but the RNC can raise and spend freely, and it has. Obama would need to keep raising at obscene levels in order to compete with the entire Republican war chest.

He's done it, in breathtaking fashion. $150 million in a single month? Do you have any idea how off-the-charts ridiculous that is? Just to put it in perspective, I remember covering then-Governor George W. Bush's presidential campaign in 2000. I was at a Bush event when he went over the $100 million mark for his campaign, which was a new record. For his entire campaign, all two years of it. No one had ever approached that figure before. Four years later, Bush and John Kerry combined to raise and spend about $650 million. Obama has raised $215 million in the last two months, and will probably top $300 million, or even approach 400 million, for the final 90 days of the campaign. He should easily beat that $650 million record - all by himself.

Now while Democrats may exult in Obama's fundraising success, and do cartwheels every time they see yet another national Obama ad during a World Series or NFL game (spots McCain can't afford to match) or on a swing state TV station, I think this kind of spending is out of hand. It's made a mockery of the public financing law. Democrats can argue that the end justifies the means, and it's fair for Obama to say that he's not "buying" the election; the American people are. Most of his donations come from everyday citizens giving 50 or 100 dollars, not from corporate titans and powerful lobbies seeking influence. As long as Obama remembers who elected him (if he wins), and remains beholden to Joe Sixpack - um, I mean John Q. Public - then that money won't have corrupted anything. But there's still something terribly unseemly about spending that much money on a political campaign, especially at a time when it's so desperately needed for other things. Too bad Obama can't appeal to everyday Americans to dig deep to end poverty, help the homeless and feed the hungry, and then turn around and give all that money to charitable organizations. I suppose, in his own way, that's what he intends to do with it, if he makes good on his campaign promises. But I still find the whole concept of political fundraising distasteful and inappropriate, which is why I would love to see true public financing of all elections.

As for Joe Sixpack, in case you somehow missed the truth about "Joe the Plumber" (that he's not named Joe and isn't a licensed plumber, among other things), you can hear our report about that from last Friday here.

So, on a weekend when Sarah Palin went on Saturday Night Live to prove she gets the joke and can laugh at herself (the material was hysterical but I still think Tina Fey does a better Sarah Palin than Sarah Palin does), Barack Obama added still more resources to salt this thing away in the home stretch: Colin Powell's blessing and 150 million more of your hard-earned dollars. Crisis? What crisis? His challenge will be to figure out how to replenish everybody's wallets if and when he moves into the White House.

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