So, I have to say, when I heard that there was a chance that Barack Obama might opt to accept the $80-some-odd million in what constitutes "public financing," instead of pressing on with his highly successful online funding engine that's managed to build a campaign warchest on the backs of 1.5+ million small donors, my first thought was that surely, Barack Obama wouldn't be THAT stupid. I was aware, yes, that he had pledged to take public financing for the general election way back when, and was likely to get dinged by the GOP for reneging. Still, I wanted him to be able to outspend McCain three-to-one after the convention, instead of one-to-one. So I'm glad he did what he did.
Still, beyond the whole thing where Obama promised 1.5 million people that he'd take their money and do what needed to be done to win the White House (as opposed to John Kerry, who didn't even spend the money he had while on the way to losing the election), I sort of pooh-pooh all the "Obama didn't keep his word!" protestations for a simple reason: just because Obama opted out of the hoary old scheme that we call "public financing" doesn't mean that his current path isn't "public financing." Seems to me that it is, actually! More importantly, it really doesn't strike me as a step away from "reform." Soliciting small donations from ordinary Americans while eschewing money from PACs seems to me to be an ideal situation. I don't know how this $80-million scheme came to be known as the only acceptable method of "public financing" or "reform" (in fact, the very fact that the law allows the candidate to opt-out at all sort of contradicts the idea of "reform"), but as far as I'm concerned, I'd like all elections to be funded in the way Obama's has.
One of the points that shouldn't be ignored of course, is that John McCain is free to avail himself of the same methodologies and make the same solicitations to the American people. Unfortunately, his campaign isn't as smart or as innovative as Obama's and the voters don't like his ideas enough to throw much money at them. So, much of this outrage from McCain and his surrogates is married to the fact that he was hoping he could shame Obama into disadvantaging himself.
Of course, it should be pointed out that "after largely ignoring the issue for the last 30 years, during which the GOP consistently outfundraised and outspent Democrats in election after election, the media are suddenly all atwitter about whether the campaign finance system is 'basically fair?'" And so, in an article ostensibly given over to Obama's process of reintroducing himself to the voters, we get this sentence:
He opted out of the public campaign-financing system -- revealing his determination to press his financial advantage, even at the cost of handing his Republican opponent the opportunity to raise questions about the sincerity of his rhetoric on reform.
See how the writer sort of hangs that out there? Implying that these "questions" have any real validity? As you've surmised, at bottom, I feel that they don't--Obama promised a pony of reform way back when, is in the position to offer two ponies now, and McCain's angry because the deal was for just the one. But maybe I'm wrong! Maybe what Obama's done, engaging the public directly in the process, is awful and terrible. I mean, even Matt is sort of suggesting this possibility when he describes Obama's move as "wriggling out of a commitment to use public financing for the general election" as if the promise represents greater "reform" than Obama's innovation.
So, maybe I just don't understand. Feel free, anyone, to explain!
The only thing I'll say, of course, is that it's worth remembering that for all of McCain's yowling at Obama, McCain did in fact scam the public finance system already, so if we're going to have this debate, he really ought to recuse his own hypocritical ass from the room before it begins.