Democratic congressional leaders have proven once again just how good they can be at snatching likely defeat from the jaws of possible victory.
They called off yesterday’s scheduled vote on a campaign finance reform bill, as a series of missteps and miscalculations seemed destined to doom it to defeat. They’re promising to take a deep breath and bring it to a vote soon. But its chances of passing both the House and the Senate now seem comparable to…hmm…Sarah Palin calling Michelle Obama to schedule a play date for the kids?
The idea behind the bill is a good one – to undo some of the damage done by the Supreme Court’s infamous Citizens United ruling earlier this year, which allows mega-rich corporations, not nearly so rich labor unions, and special interest advocacy groups to spend as much money as they want on political campaign advertising, without public disclosure of that spending.
For anyone who thinks corporate special interests have already gamed the American political system, rendering it ineffective and unresponsive to the needs of citizens – you’re right, but you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. If left in place, this new ruling will take that bad situation and make it infinitely worse.
One solution would be to brand corporate logos into legislators’ foreheads so that when they pontificate in front of cameras on the House & Senate floors, we at least know who’s sponsoring them. The more civilized approach chosen by Democrats in Congress was to craft a bill requiring candidates and campaigns to disclose exactly where all that unlimited new ad money is coming from.
Until the free flow of corporate cash can itself be stopped, this is a step in the right direction. No surprise that an opposition coalition of large corporations, the Chamber of Commerce, the Republican Party, and advocacy groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA) is fighting to prevent that step from being taken.
Given such opposition, Democratic leaders had a choice. They could repeat over and over again that such opposition is everything that’s wrong with American politics. Then they could back it up by proving to a skeptical public that they had the courage of their convictions, making no concessions or compromises on their reform bill just to win a few Republican or Blue Dog Democratic votes in Congress.
Rahm Emanuel, White House Chief Of Staff and catalyst behind so much of what the Obama administration and the Democratic Party has gotten wrong in the last eighteen months, must have gotten a hold of this. First, a deal was cut with the NRA, exempting them from disclosure requirements. Then when other groups like AARP and The Humane Society complained, the bill was modified again to exempt them too. What should have been a shining moment for the Democrats became a sideshow.
The opposition coalition pounced, relishing the irony of calling out the Democrats on caving in to special interests. Democratic senators started leaking anonymous statements to the press about not wanting to deal with this bill, not now anyway.
Ding Dong, the bill is dead. And that is a disastrous damned shame. When will national Democratic Party leaders figure out that they’ll soon become the minority party if their legislative strategy continues to place polling-driven cautiousness above uncompromising convictions, and courage?