By Bill Press
Tribune Media Services
Is it too much to ask for a little sanity in politics today? Apparently so.
The Right has been particularly insane in the attacks they’ve leveled against President Obama. If you believe Fox News or Rush Limbaugh, he’s trying to install a communist dictatorship, turning over the government to ACORN, attending too many fundraisers, and playing too much golf.
But now comes the silliest charge of all. According to The Washington Times, Washington’s right-wing propaganda sheet, Obama’s secretly granting special favors to big donors or bundlers to the Democratic National Committee. As breathlessly reported by the Times, among other sins, Obama’s actually guilty of: playing basketball with friend and bundler Marty Nesbitt; inviting friend and bundler Eric Whitaker to sit in the first lady’s box during a speech to Congress: playing golf with bundler Robert Wolf; and inviting 39 donors to a St. Patrick’s Day party on the White House lawn. Start impeachment hearings!
Republican National Chairman Michael Steele, accusing Obama of turning the White House into a “full-service resort,” has demanded an immediate investigation. And at a White House briefing I attended on Oct. 28, one reporter asked Press Secretary Robert Gibbs: “Why not set a policy that says campaign bundlers and donors would have no more access to the White House campus or senior administration officials than the average American?” Seriously, I almost fell off my chair. How naive can you be?
Let’s be honest. This sudden fuss over campaign contributors is nothing but the latest attempt by Obama haters to snare him in some nonexistent scandal. There is zero evidence that Obama has done anything unusual or wrong, let alone illegal.
The truth is that every president, Republican or Democrat, has given special access to major donors. Ever since the days of George Washington, those who write big checks get special treatment. Always have; always will. To expect anything different is simply not realistic.
And, frankly, I see nothing wrong with it. In fact, I think special friends deserve special treatment, up to a point — as long as they’re not profiting financially from it. Most donors want nothing more than a handshake, a signed photograph, or an invitation to a White House event with hundreds of other donors. No big deal.
Is there the potential for abuse? Absolutely. And we’ve seen it. George W. Bush gave lobbyist Jack Abramoff unlimited White House access. Bill Clinton turned the Lincoln Bedroom into a Motel Six. Dick Cheney greased the skids for his former buddies at Halliburton to receive no-bid contracts in Iraq. But not even The Washington Times accuses Barack Obama of any such abuse.
In fact, Obama, who promised to do things differently, is already doing so. As announced in August, he will soon release the names of everyone who has visited the White House for any reason whatsoever since he took office — and update that list every quarter.
Obama’s the first president to make those records available. We still don’t know, for example, who met with Dick Cheney to put together the Bush administration’s energy policy. We don’t know what “Pioneers” were invited to hang with George Bush at Camp David, or which fat cats dined with Dick and Lynn Cheney at the vice-president’s mansion. Of course, The Washington Times did not raise the issue of impropriety back then, when there was good reason to. Yet they raise it now, when there’s no reason to — except partisan sniping.
Don’t get me wrong. I strongly support public financing of political campaigns in order to level the playing field and give challengers a real chance to knock off incumbents. It would be great to get all personal money out of politics. But, until we do (which won’t happen in our lifetimes), there’s no getting around the golden rule: Those who have the gold, rule. Those who don’t, don’t.
When it comes to major donors, you and I have every right to know how much they give, how many times they visit the White House, for what purpose, and what special favors, if any, they might be given. But to expect any president not to give special recognition to his or her major donors is just not realistic.
I don’t know about you, but if I write a check for $30,400 (maximum allowable) to help President Obama, at least I’d better get to shake his hand.
© 2009 Tribune Media Services, Inc.