I clearly remember when I first became truly alarmed during Obama’s 2008 campaign. Originally I didn’t know much about Obama, and slowly but surely began to notice warning signs that he might be worse than the garden-variety liberal Democratic candidate he was trying to present himself as being. But the real red flag occurred in June of 2008 when he abruptly changed his mind about public campaign financing.
Now, that incident probably doesn’t stick in the minds of many people now. Nor did it then. But I wrote at the time:
Yesterday Obama channeled Emily Litella and said “never mind,” taking back his earlier promise to accept public financing for his campaign if his opponent would as well…
Well, so what? Promises, shmomises…
…as soon as Obama saw that the money flowing his way was far beyond what he could get if he adhered to his agreement, he reneged.
It’s not just that he reneged, either–it’s how he reneged. Who’s to blame, according to Obama? Why, John McCain and the nasty Republicans, that’s who. James Joyner writes that this charge of Obama’s does take “a bit of gall.” I’d say it takes substantially more than a bit, as well as a heavy dose of the whining, blaming, audacity in which the holier-than-thou Obama tends to specialize…
The most important thing about it, though, was that his supporters made excuses for what he did, or praised it. I noticed that they did not seem the least bit perturbed:
…once again, he’s relying on the American people not to know or care—and, if the comments by his supporters are any indication, he could be right…
In early July of 2009, after just a few months of President Obama, I revisited this turning point and added the following:
[Right after Obama’s switch on campaign financing]…something even more perturbing to me than what Obama was doing or even how he was doing it…was the reaction to him. The mainstream press (with only a few exceptions) seemed to take it in stride, mentioning it but not making a fuss about it, seeing it as a pragmatic decision. But what of Obama’s supporters? Would they not feel betrayed by his hypocrisy on campaign financing? After all, wasn’t his perceived trustworthiness, his business-as-unusual persona, a great part of what attracted them to him in the first place? Would this lack of integrity not make the scales fall from their eyes?
Once again, with just a few exceptions, the answer was a resounding “no.” It was merely seen as a clever move, a sign that Obama was a winner rather than a loser.
Yet another thought then came to me—the idea that this action of Obama’s had been a sort of test—not of him, but of us. In weighing whether to go ahead and refuse public financing, he had probably calculated that the extra money he’d have access to if he broke his pledge might be the key to his winning. So, although it would give his opponents further ammunition with which to criticize him, and might offend his base by showing that he was just a pol like any other after all, he felt it was probably worth the gamble. But his public’s reaction told him that there had been virtually no risk at all, and gave him a green light for future reversals and other cynical moves.
From this experience, Obama learned to his pleasure (I don’t know whether it was to his surprise) that the press was so thoroughly behind him, and his many supporters so hypnotized by his spellbinding charisma, that he no longer had to be quite as careful as before. Audacity was going to pay off, big time.
So, why am I going on and on about something that happened all those years ago? As you might imagine, something Donald Trump did recently made me think of it:
Now that Donald Trump is the presumptive nominee, it’s almost shocking how quickly his tune has changed on the corrupting influence of big money donors. SURPRISINGLY (to Trump voters), it turns out that he doesn’t mind them at all and places no value on being independent from them. After all the railing he did about how the other candidates were “owned” by their financiers and special interests, he finds zero problem with the whole system now.
That’s from Leon H. Wolf at RedState. And in the comments section there we have this:
This amounts to a sociological experiment where the question posed is, “What if I abandoned any pretense of Honor or Shame, and behaved in an entirely pragmatic manner, saying whatever will move me forward in any given moment without regard for past statements, actions or any hypocrisy to be proved thereby?”
If Trump has a business plan for this election, this would be part of it. He has clearly decided not to care about anything a decent human being would value. He is taking a completely amoral approach, and believes the Media will continue to allow it because he brings them ratings.
I assume I don’t have to point out the parallels to Obama. I would only add to that comment the fact that Trump believes (correctly, it seems) that his supporters will continue to allow it—and even praise it—because they see him as the only alternative to the even-more-hated Hillary, or because they actually applaud the approach itself.
In other words, it’s okay because he’s our audaciously lying hypocrite with a sycophantic following. And in this act of Trump’s he’s a hypocrite and/or liar in more ways than Obama was when he broke his finance pledge, such as:
(1) Trump’s acceptance of Adelson’s enormous sum of money is an indication (and not the first one) that Trump may also have been lying about the extent of his own financial assets
(2) Trump’s trashing of other candidates for accepting donations and therefore being the puppets of their donors was apparently just so much empty propagandist blather on his part (and as one of the major talking points used early on by his most activist supporters, their apparent silence on this matter now speaks volumes about their own hypocrisy, too)
Obama paved the way for a man like Trump to get as far as he has. People sometimes say that, and they often mean a number of things—including the idea that Trump is needed now as a corrective to Obama. But I think that Obama demonstrated something to any candidate who will follow, which is that the American people will now accept things they wouldn’t accept in a candidate just a short while ago.
Some of these changes have been apparent for a while. For example, I can remember (and it wasn’t all that many years ago) when a divorced candidate was impossible or highly unlikely (Reagan broke that mold, and he’s the only one till now). I can also remember when a candidate who admitted to taking illegal drugs was going nowhere (Bill Clinton tiptoed up to that line but didn’t cross it; Obama crossed it). The first is relevant to Trump; the second is not (he has never used drugs or alcohol). And I can remember when, although candidates certainly lied and/or made promises they couldn’t or wouldn’t keep, they were wary of breaking those promises so unapologetically and so obviously during the campaign itself, because they thought the American people wanted a president with more integrity than that—or at the very least, one who appeared to have more integrity than that.
In 2008 Obama demonstrated that with enough chutzpah a candidate could say up is down and 2+2 is 5, do it during the campaign itself, could go back and forth and reverse what he’d said previously, and it didn’t necessarily matter. The American people had become cynical enough, hardened enough, uninformed enough, amoral/immoral enough (some or all of the above), that it would praised as a clever move.
We have reaped what was sowed.
And even Obama did not create this situation in the electorate. He merely exposed it, and showed those who would come after him how to exploit it.