President Biden, on special interest money are you more an ‘Obama’ or a ‘Hillary?’
Joe Biden called Barack Obama’s upstart presidential campaign a “fairy tale.” It may have been the last time Joe Biden was right about something. After all, many fairy tales begin in whimsy — before they turn to tragedy.
There were many surprising and inspiring elements of Barack Obama’s political rise. He lost a congressional campaign, before suddenly launching himself to victory in a US Senate race. An opponent’s “sex scandal” eased the path to victory: in 2004, it was disqualifying for frontrunner Jack Ryan to have taken his then-wife (and Star Trek: Voyager actress) to sex clubs. (Would that even be an issue today? But I digress).
Obama, aside from being “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy” (to quote Joe Biden’s extremely dubious compliment), had a vision for American politics that wasn’t devoted to lobbyists and special interests — at least not at first.
Speaking in Virginia, he promised an enraptured crowd: “We will not take a dime from Washington lobbyists or special interest PACs. We’re going to change how Washington works. They will not fund my party. They will not run our White House. And they will not drown out the voice of the American people when I’m president of the United States.”
I hope that line got the applause it deserved. It was good policy then, and it’s still good now.
In a move that remains sadly rare in Washington, Obama followed through on his promise — under his guidance, the DNC stopped accepting donations from political action committees (PACs) in 2008.
Sadly, when Hillary Clinton became the presumptive nominee in 2016, the policy was reversed. Hillary came to fill the swamp, not drain it; since 2016, lobbyists have been welcomed back to donor junkets, where booze and campaign cash both flow liberally.
Now, to face the future, President Biden must answer a question about the past: are you more an “Obama” or a “Hillary?” Do you want to change the way Washington works, or revert to the mean of corruption and backroom dealing? Will special interests fund your coffers, your party, and your future? Will lobbyists run your White House?
Or was Obama’s aspiration for corrupt-free governance just another fairy tale?
Campaign finance reports make it clear: the Democrat Party is rolling in cash. But whose? In February, the DNC raised $8.5 million. If that sounds small in the era of modern politics, it is the most money ever raised in February in a non-presidential election year. But how much of that comes from lobbyists and PACs and other swamp creatures? Washington provides them a luxurious mud bath; Middle America gets stuck with the bill.
Sadly, the Republican establishment is no better. On a recent conference call, Republican leadership told members not to fret that many Fortune 100 companies aren’t donating to pro-Trump congressmen. “They’ll come back once they realize the error of their ways,” we were consoled. “They belong with us, not the socialists, and they’ll soon come home.” On this issue, Republican leadership has the pathology of a naïve, cheated-on spouse.
I see things differently. I canceled the ‘woke’ special interests and sleazy lobbyists before they could cancel me. I’m the only Republican in Congress who refuses all lobbyist and PAC donations. The American People are my only special interest. I guess I’m channeling my inner Obama!
Americans are decent, honest, hardworking people, betrayed for decades by a corrupt government that caters almost exclusively to the rich and powerful. Election outcomes don’t matter in that world, not really — the same special interests own the leadership of both parties.
President Trump and President Obama both challenged the way the establishment finances politics. Both represented something different, something we had never seen before. Trump told some tall tales. Obama may have been a fairy tale. But with President Biden, will there even be a story worth telling? So far, the answer is no: no inspiration, no promise of better days ahead, no hope, no change. No making anything great again…just the same old storytelling.
Now that he has settled into the White House, I hope President Biden will tell a new story. If he can break the corporate stranglehold on the American government…that’ll be a story worth telling, and one the American people will applaud.
Congressman Matt Gaetz represents Florida’s 1st District in the House of Representatives. He serves on the House Armed Services and Judiciary committees.
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