Obama's 'Better Politics' Rhetoric Lacks Solutions

Obama's 'Better Politics' Rhetoric Lacks Solutions

(Photo:AP/Jeff Roberson)


President Obama’s Springfield, Illinois, speech Wednesday was billed as a first step in his lame-duck quest to begin building a “better politics,” in part, through new campaign-finance reforms.

But the lofty rhetoric that failed to include any detailed policy proposals was a familiar letdown for campaign-finance reformers hungry for solutions. Instead, what they got was a weak-tea version of his State of the Union address, which included campaign-finance reform as a key refrain.

Obama talked about the “corrosive influence of money in politics.” He explained how 150 wealthy families have spent as much on the presidential election as the rest of America combined. And he lamented how billionaires can discretely influence elections with undisclosed, “dark” money.

What he didn’t mention was what he could do as president to address dark money right now. Campaign-finance reform advocacy groups have been pushing Obama to sign an executive order that would require federal contractors to disclose all political spending—some say this the closest the White House has been to such a move since this path to action was proposed nearly six years ago. Others who remember the administration’s past indecisiveness are more skeptical.

Rootstrikers, a Washington, D.C.–based nonpartisan, grassroots advocacy group, recently sent a petition signed by more than 100,000 people to the White House calling on the president to sign the order. Last week, the administration responded to the petition in a manner that the group found “offensive.”

“President Obama addressed this issue in his final State of the Union address,” the White House wrote, before going on to quote verbatim the money-in-politics stance outlined in the January speech: “We have to reduce the influence of money in our politics, so that a handful of families and hidden interests can’t bankroll our elections, and if our existing approach to campaign finance can’t pass muster in the courts, we need to work together to find a real solution.”

Obama’s Illinois speech came off as equally tone-deaf to reformers. He stuck to his glossy talking points without offering any new ways to bring a “better politics” to reality.

In Springfield, nine years ago to the day, Obama announced his presidential candidacy with similar “hope-and-change rhetoric.” For a variety of political reasons, that dream was never realized.

The president plans to continue his national tour to promote a “better politics.” But so far, on the money-in-politics front, Obama appears to be content to end his presidency with rhetorical flourishes rather than bold action.