Principles in politics often fade even before all the election returns are in. Once elected, candidates can feel liberated from inconvenient campaign promises. President Obama, more than anyone, has “grown” so big in office he isn’t bound by anything he said before the day before yesterday.
He was once the passionate, bright-eyed reformer who talked the talk, even becoming the first presidential candidate to disdain public funding of his campaign. But when a gaggle of liberal billionaires gathered in Chicago last week to plot how to buy a liberal Congress in November, the president wasn’t at all offended by all that money walking.
Mr. Obama dispatched his most powerful deputy, Valerie Jarrett, to join the discussions with the secretive “Democracy Alliance.” They’ll have hundreds of millions of dollars in unrestricted contributions to spend between now and Election Day. Convictions and principles are nice, but holding on to control of the Senate by any means necessary is nicer.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has spent the past few months deriding, insulting and calling the Koch brothers, more libertarian that orthodox conservative, “un-American” for participating in democracy through contributing money to free-market groups. When Tom Steyer, the newest liberal rich kid on the block, pledged to spend $100 million to defeat the Keystone XL pipeline and keep the Senate in Democratic hands, Mr. Reid applauded, and flew off to San Francisco for a fundraiser at Mr. Steyer’s mansion.
Vulnerable Democrats have even formed a political action committee to “Stop the Koch Brothers,” pleading for support because, they say, the brothers have contributed a “jaw-dropping $30 million to buy elections.” Some of the Democrats should help the Koch critics find their jaws because that’s less than a third of what Mr. Steyer pledged.
Even outside groups that make money raising money to support new campaign-finance laws look the other way when rich liberals do what they tell others not to do. People for the American Way devotes eight pages on its website to the sins of the Koch brothers, but nary a paragraph to examine where Mr. Steyer sends his largesse. Common Cause doesn’t get a mention, either. Mr. Steyer’s money, hundreds of millions of dollars of it, is deemed sanitary, and the ethics inspectors of the left are careful to “see no evil.”
The Koch brothers fight the establishment in both political parties, and Mr. Steyer leverages his checkbook to get insider Democratic power. His chief adviser, Chris Lehane, threatens to close the money tap if the president approves the Keystone pipeline. “If we’re collectively going to put $100 million into this cycle,” he told the Bloomberg news service, “how much will go into key races depends on Keystone.”
The extortion is working. The president quickly issued another delay in the project and he is expected to kill it after the elections, leaving many of his blue-collar union supporters out of luck and out of work.
The First Amendment continues to irritate those who want to shut down debate. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York’s senior Democrat, says he will draft a constitutional amendment to put limits on the First Amendment. He wants to give Congress the ability to set limits on campaign contributions. This would effectively overturn the McCutcheon and Citizens United decisions and give politicians the power to game the system.
“The First Amendment is sacred,” says Mr. Schumer, “but the First Amendment is not absolute, and by making it absolute you actually make it less sacred to most Americans.”
That’s just the sort of thing a politician who has “grown” too much in office might say. William F. Buckley Jr. must have had Mr. Schumer in mind when he told a critic, “I won’t insult your intelligence by suggesting that you really believe what you just said.”