Barack Obama is endangering his status as the media darling of the 2008 presidential campaign. In fact, he has been the villain in the campaign story over the last few days. Two decisions — one small and one large — showed the dangers he faces. And a third showed that the post-racial candidate is no longer in evidence. It is no secret that the media has been openly rooting for Obama for months. His gaffes would have felled other candidates, his relationship with hate-mongering preachers would have disqualified mere mortal candidates and, of course, his lack of any national record of accomplishment might have prevented all much the most ego-inflated from even mounting a White House run. But it was hanging together fairly well until last week.
The trigger for the downward slide was his decision to abandon public financing. The decision made cold political sense given his likely enormous advantage over the McCain camp but there were two complicating factors: he had shaped his career as a “reformer” and he specifically promised that he would take public financing and the rules that go along with it.
Moreover, many of his good government, liberal allies were distressed. What’s more, they went public with their distress.
And for once, the media joined in the Obama-bashing and perhaps was even harsher. It was the “low point” according to a usually sympathetic David Brooks. Clearly, the press, which had sheltered Obama from virtually every dicey incident to date, had had enough. The criticism was sharp and virtually uniform. When added to his decision to duck town hall meetings with McCain –which Obama had also said he would do, before he thought better of it — the dean of the mainstream media, David Broder was forced to admit that Obama’s “motives” might be open to question.
And the self-serving explanation was too much even for mainstream media outlets like the Washington Post. The negative reception suggested that the mainstream press may be re-evaluating their subservient behavior. At the very least, when an issue is near and dear to them, as “the corruption of money in politics” is, they appeared ready now to call foul when Obama goes a step too far.
Now ordinarily, campaign finance reform does not register high with the general public. This is a quintessential inside-the-Beltway issue. However, given the firestorm from the media and the effort by the McCain camp to expose a pattern of hypocrisy or at least cynical position-shifting by Obama, the risk for Obama is that he will lose the underlying rationale for his candidacy: the harbinger of the New Politics, a leader unlike any we have ever seen.
In short, the campaign finance move exposed the Great and Powerful Oz as an ordinary man behind that curtain.