This weeks column in The Wanderer, the oldest national Catholic weekly newspaper.
By Thomas F. Roeser
1. OBAMA, THE $250 MILLION MAN.
Cinque Henderson, an African American writer for the liberal New Republic, wrote a highly educative piece last week that said even today most blacks think O. J. Simpson is innocent. So, and at times like this when a black man is out front in the public eye [as Barack Obama is] black people feel both proud and vulnerable and as a result scour the earth for evidence of racists plotting to bring him down. Henderson adds: if Obama had married a white woman not one who is an outspoken black nationalist as Michelle Obama is, his popularity with African Americans would be in single digits. Thus he says, Obama is a genius at having it both ways: moderate in TV sound bytes and properly revolutionary to the Left when his words are reduced to cold, hard print.
But as we know through this Wanderer series, Obama (whom Ive interviewed several times) is closer than any other Democratic presidential nominees to sounding like the kookiest college faculty lounge Marxist. Why? He favors confiscatory tax hikes on the rich not because of budget balancing but elementary social justice. He believes negotiations with Iran and Syria need no conditions but not so with Hamas, despite the fact that all three agree on terrorism. But, he says, Hamas should be ordered to accept conditions pleasing the pro-Israel contingent in the Democratic party, part of a miniscule 2% Jewish population nationally but which votes 89% Democratic.
On life issues, he opposes even continuation of life for live babies born from botched abortions (something no other liberal senator in the U.S. Senate does including Ted Kennedy and Barbara Boxer). While he talks a good game about re-writing NAFTA because its robbing domestic jobs from U. S. labor, he circuitously sends a private Chicago messenger to the Canadian embassy here telling them not to pay attention, everything will continue just as it was.
All these and more show him as duplicitous (which he indubitably is but lets face it, not much more so than other politicians, given half a chance).. But hold on! On one issue he has genuinely and satisfyingly made a singular mark in American history for which I credit him. And I kid you notthis is not said in irony or sarcasm. This is the issue of campaign funding.
For it is a certifiable truth that Barack Obama has done what no other presidential candidate has yet done in American history
and has done what John McCain has trumpeted he will do and has not. He has raised a quarter of a billion dollars thus far by largely tapping small donors, many of whom are unconnected entirely from the usual centers of vested power. And nothing remotely smelly like auctioning off a Lincoln bedroom or handing ambassadorships to rich dolts who dont deserve them, as they have done in Republican and Democratic administrations. His staff, unlike McCains, is notably free of special interest lobbyists. And still he has all this money. How come?
Refining the question, how a virtual unknown, who has served only a half term as junior U.S. senator done this, raising $234 million--outdistancing Hillarys $189 million when she had a decade plus to do it with her husband Bill, using every trick in the book? How has he spectacularly outdistanced such Democratic veterans as and the number following the numerals here is in millions, latest figures from www.opensecrets.org--Joe Biden, a senator since his early 30s (12); Chris Dodd, senator since his early 40s and son of a venerable senator ($17); John Edwards, mega millionaire trial attorney ($51); Bill Richardson, former congressman, ex-UN ambassador and now New Mexico governor, (22). How did this happen?
Now we get to the Republicans. How is it Barack has topped mega-millionaire Mitt Romney ($104)? Fred Thompson, ex-senator and TV actor ($23)? Rudy Giuliani, ex-New York mayor and 9/11 hot media idol ($57)? Also: ex-governor, ex-HHS secretary Tommy Thompson a lowly ($1.2)? The only Republican surprise has been Ron Paul with $34.4 million (who applied Baracks fund-raising strategy). But again: How did Barack do so well? And so effortlessly not requiring personal appearances to money-plead? And do it, obviously, without violating ethics, not spending much of his valuable time on the phone wangling dollars from contributors? That is the theme of todays epistle, dear reader.
The intriguing answer is this: He used the new rules laid out under the McCain-Feingold act which even the laws major author, McCain failed to understand. During last February he raised $55 million, $45 million of which was done without lifting a finger or making a phone callbut over the Internet. At the same time, McCain is so strapped that he will have to resort to federal financing (which Barack evidently will disdain) plus the use of $120 million from the Republican National Committee.
Funds made to a political party are traditionally not sparkling and special interest-free. Major donors to the RNC will be able to write single checks for $33,100of which $25,500 goes to the party and $2,300 to the McCains pre-convention fund (technically legal so long as Ron Paul stays on as a competitor). As the father of a misbegotten finance reform law, McCain is in such bad financial shape that he will agree to take $84.1 million in federal funds and limit his spending to that amount. But in bill, there still will be plenty of money available through the GOP and outside advocacy groups known as 527s, commercials dealing with hot-button issues but which dont plug a candidates election. The 527 provision both McCain and Bush denounced at the time, notwithstanding that one 527 saved Bushs neck in 2004, the devastating ads run by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
There was a time before the small donors plan was seen to work that Obama indicated he would accept federal financing and tried to shame Republicans to do the same, charging that they were the party of big money. But he hasnt repeated this recently since it is extremely likely he will turn down federal financing since he has had a spectacular fund-raising year on the Internetunlike McCain.
Every corporate exec with a special interest angle will be pumping money into the GOP coffers under the relaxed rules given McCains sparse fund raisingwhile Obama continues to reign as the pure of heart (saying he wont take PAC checks but he does take individual contributions from executives from companies with PACs: a neat Obama-esque distinction).
Still, how did it happen that Obama, who only a few years ago was an unknown Illinois state senator, picked up so much smarts as to top pros like Hillary Clinton who has been raising money for decades
and old pro John McCain?
Whats Baracks Secret?
The answer: four things. Let us acknowledge he is, in fact, a gifted politician by almost any yardstick so he was able early to tie the excitement for him in dollars and voter turnout.
Then, (1) he shrewdly used McCain-Feingold to expand the number and kinds of people including millions of first-timers to enter the political process: a net plus for the country. And (2) he saw northern California i.e. Silicon Valley, as a fecund source of money while Hillary Clinton and the other Democrats were napping. Then (3) the Iraq War which energized the liberal wing of the Democratic party. And (4) he found the right people in the Silicon Valley to tap the rich vein of gold ore for him by appealing to the small donor, a group the Democrats never really were at ease with.
He was dismayed to see traditionalists of his party looking to the tired old fat cats who had always participatedgetting them to cocktail parties and picking their pockets for the maximum the law allows, $2,300 apiece for the primary and another $2,300 for the general
then also lining up 20 people in a private club who had already given $100,000 each to the party and asking them to round up similar prospects
and later 50 or so in somebodys living room for the candidate to woo at $5,000 apiece (meaning the candidate is expected to make the pitch when he should be out campaigning, becoming a terrible drain on the candidate)
the candidate fielding requests for favors from hiring ones brother-in-law to an ambassadorship.
In contrast, the Obama people recruited a team of post-industrial but age 40-something entrepreneurial liberals to run Silicon Valley with names no one else ever heard of: Mark Gorenberg, John Roos, Nadine North and Steve Spinner.
Gorenberg was discovered by David Axelrod, Obamas media guru and ad hoc manager of the presidential campaign whom Ive known for many years ever since he was a political reporter for the Tribune. Gorenberg and his team are like Axelrod himself, believing but non-too-observant Jews. Like Axelrod they are muti-millionaires and as unlike standard political hacks as you can find. They will view with contempt any overture to get them into government jobs in reward after election. For one thing, they became too wealthy on their own as entrepreneurs to be bothered with measly (to them) $100,000-plus jobs as White House functionaries.
As The Atlantic reports this month, Gorenberg, engineer-trained and a multi-millionaire from his own company, works as a full-time enthusiast for Obama motivated by a labor of love in a converted warehouse on the Embarcadero, the stylish eastern waterfront roadway that sits atop a seawall overlooking spectacular San Francisco Bay. A partner in a venture capital firm, he wears the standard computer wonk uniform of blazer and open-throated Brooks Brothers shirt (no tie) and was relatively liberal but agnostic in politics until the war blossomed. Drawn to the 2004 campaign of John Kerry, he became disgusted with the typical Democratic fund-raising event that gathered a bevy of regular contributors and pleaded with them to raise $100,000 each.
So in addition to collecting from them, he swung his computer and the computers of his pals into action, creating a fresh network to churned up a huge list of people who could give $2,300 each with no trouble and those who can afford less: from $200 to $25. Sheer numbers won out and by the end of the campaign that Kerry lost, Gorenberg with his new names all giving smaller amounts was Kerrys number one fund-raiser in the nation.
Rather than being disillusioned at Kerrys loss, the defeat re-energized him and he had become a part-time political fund-raising junky. He teamed up with the very wealthy Nadine North who owns a head-hunting firm finding techie execs for computer firms and they attacked the next project with great zeal: trying to elect a Democratic Congress in 2006. Thats where Axelrod, who was running Obamas senate campaign, was tipped off that something revolutionary was happening in Silicon Valley i.e. not courting the biggies but wealthy younger people who can easily fork over $2,300 each without pain.
Gorenberg and North added John Roos, a buttoned-down, corporate-style CEO of a Palo Alto law firm. Just then Axelrod told Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the San Francisco Big Mama, later to become Speaker, about them. Pelosi, Axelrod and the computer trio sat down and picked from 10 to 15 House seats they needed to win control. Gorenberg discovered that software companies hit hard by the Internet bubble bust and unable to sell expensive systems, favored a subscription model that charged smaller incremental fees for software access which he jumped at.
Voila! Gorenberg and North didnt ask for big checks up front but invited each of the 15 House candidates to come to the Bay Area to meet them and their trendy Silicon Valley supporters who could be encouraged to give recurring but smaller checks. First-time contributors loved brushing shoulders with new candidates and in a short time the list of 15 candidates grew to 30 and beyond. The exciting denouement came when, on election night, 2006 Democrats recaptured the House and, as North told The Atlantics Joshua Green many of the candidates were ones we had supported! It really brought the national political landscape home to Democrats in the Bay Area.
Meanwhile, back in Chicago, Axelrod knew he had a winner in Obama who had swept to victory in the Senate. He started pushing Obama for the presidency and reached out to the Silicon Valley team, lining them up. Now Hillary Clintons people made a big mistake. The Internet was still largely a novelty when Bill Clinton was president. He and Hillary had concentrated on the old way of raising money with the Lincoln bedroom and lavish parties (plus ambassadorships) for favors. They both figured Obama as a flash in the pan. She thought Baracks slender resume would do him in: too insignificant for the presidency.
But a slender resume means nothing to Silicon Valley where billionaires are born seemingly overnight. These swinging execs are young themselves with scant resumes, hitting the big time, the same kind of people who started Google and YouTube. Tell them a fat resume full of Washington beltway experience is required for running the country and theyll laugh out loud. Hillary decided to concentrate on the old California gang: actors, producers and Hollywood types, leaving Silicon Valley, richest region of the richest state in the nation for Obama. Summarizes The Atlantics Green: The hottest start-up in the Valley right now wont make anybody rich but it might put the next president in the White House.
Axelrods vision is more than money-raising. He sees Obama as a brand of a $250 million presidential industry. Millions of new names from the website, tens of millions of volunteers including $200 donors and much smallerand some who cant afford to give money at all-- means that, to his mind, once Obama gets in the White House these tens of millions of volunteers can be activated to lobby the Congress to get Obamas liberal program through. The Congress, he confides, isnt aware of the huge Internet army now but once Obama gets in and the emails rush in an avalanche on Washington, the Congress wont know what hit it.
Compared to the Obama campaign, the McCain effort is strictly file-cabinet and 3 x 5 hand-written cards. Indeed, the only people on the Republican side who got the same message Obama did are the Ron Paul people who capitalized with grassroots dissatisfaction on the war and big government, building a small donor file that produced a haul which made GOP history.
And the irony is that the man who crusaded for McCain-Feingold and got it passed, forgot to take advantage of it for smaller donors the way the Obama people have.
2. A TALE OF TWO PRO-LIFE DEFECTORS.
Every army has defectors and pro-life is no exception. One is very usual--an old school pol who merely plays the angles. Democrat Ray Flynn was mayor of Boston from 1984 to 1993, serving during Bill Clintons first term. He was an All-American basketball player at Providence College, was most valuable player in the 1963 national invitational tournament during his senior year and was the last player cut from the then-World Champion Boston Celtics. He won his spurs in the Democratic party by representing the South Boston neighborhood in the legislature during the busing crisis of the 1970s.
He got elected with a socially conservative platform as mayor but kept his eyes open for possibilities. Although publicly pro-life he worked for pro-abort Bill Clintons election in 1992, winning reelection as mayor that year. Promptly, President Clinton named him ambassador to the Vatican in 1993 and Flynn went to Rome as a kind of anomaly: a pro-lifer who rose above principle to support Clinton and in return became Clintons man in the Vatican.
When Clinton left office, Flynn ran unsuccessfully for Congress in the 8th congressional district seat vacated by Joseph P. Kennedy but lost the Democratic nomination: the Dems were still pro-abort. As a private citizen, Flynn returned to the official pro-life stand, supporting George W. Bush in 2000. No reward was in the offing after Bushs two victories. But Flynn became a major league pro-lifer celebrity, president of the Catholic Alliance, a national Catholic political advocacy group; and president of another lay Catholic group, Your Catholic Voice, then started Catholic Citizenship in 2004 where in 2007 he became national chairman. He was featured talk show host on Catholic Family Radio and has gone around the country on a speaking tour collecting honoraria. Pro-life had its first media-star Democrat, huzza!
In 2007 he was named grand marshall of the 246th New York St. Patricks Day parade., Flynn endorsed former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and stressed Romneys conversion to pro-life. Romney lost the nomination to John McCain as we all know.
Lo and behold, not long ago pro-lifer Flynn was back at the old Democratic stand, endorsing Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for president. Hillary Clinton as the world knows is pro-abort. Rumors abound that once she officially loses the nomination to Barack Obama as is widely expected, Flynn willhold on to your hatconsider endorsing John McCain. Huh? And nobodys catching on?
The other defector, Doug Kmiec, is a far different case, and it is stunningly sad, far more so than that of Flynn. A top-quality, blue-chip, pro-life lawyer, Kmiec is a constitutional scholar, Caruso Family Chair and Professor of Constitutional Law at Pepperdine University. He is former head of the Office of Legal Council holding the rank of assistant attorney general for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. He was a member of the law faculty of Notre Dame, directing the Thomas White Center on Law and Government. He was a White House fellow, a Fulbright scholar and published books on the constitution. He headed the Romney for President committee on the courts and constitution in 2007. He was regarded as one of the great advocates of pro-life and social conservative doctrines.
Prominent as he was, Kmiec wasnt named by Bush to senior judiciary posts as was expected by many (including this writer). A few months ago, he announced he is backing Barack Obama for president. Once again: The very same Barack Obama who opposed the Born Alive bill in the Illinois legislature to defend babies lives when born after a botched abortion.
Why did Kmiec endorse him? Rumors abound that if Obama gets to the White House, Kmiec would be in line for a major judicial position. Moreover, a story was just floated on the Internet the other day that Kmiec says he was denied Communion by a priest because of his pro-Obama stand. This may well be regarded by the Democrats as a plus, martyrdom for liberal causes gaining great favor these days which would be regarded as a definite asset by a Democratic senate that is needed to confirm.
Ray Flynn and Doug Kmiec: Is this a great country, or what?