Saturday, February 9, 2008

Clinton gets desperate

Four years ago, John Kerry made a desperate gamble and dipped into his personal fortune -- he is indirectly connected to the Forbes dynasty on his mother's side -- and loaned his campaign $6 million. It paid off in spades. But that was very early in the campaign, well before the regional primaries, way before Super Tuesday.

Now, Hillary Clinton has loaned $5 million of her own money to her campaign. This time, I think it's too little too late. If her campaign is bleeding money, Barack Obama is raising it like crazy -- $3 million just on Thursday. In her latest column, even Margaret Noonan (the woman who wrote the elder Bush's infamous "Read My Lips" speech) suggests the momentum is now tilting clearly in Obama's favour; and that the" superdelegates" who have staunchly been behind Clinton may have now quietly decided to flip and vote for the Man from Illinois if it goes to the convention floor.

That kind of backstabbing would be more stupid than just openly admitting the truth. But beyond that there are from my perspective some big problems with the American Way of politics. Two stick out.

First, if one accepts public financing, he or she is limited to how much they can spend. If they don't they can spend as much as they want. Edwards did the right thing and took public money but it made him an even bigger minnow in a war of attrition. Most other countries set out strict limits for both the nomination process and the race to the actual election.

Second, unique among democracies in the world, America doesn't have free time advertising; that is, requiring networks to give over some time each night during a campaign to let the campaigns tell their stories unfiltered. The best known example is the UK and their announcements which usually have professional production values and a bit of wit attached to them. Canada has a hybrid system with both paid and free time ads.

If everyone in the States had a strict limit of spending and an allotted time to speak out, it would be a more thoughtful and less personal debate; and winning and losing would depend less on personality and more on character. It would be an issues based campaign. And there would be people who actually deserve to run for the highest office in the land; not people who run just because they have money because they're born with it or are convincing authors.

The rate things are going, though, it's going to be McCain vs either Clinton or OBama and it will come to a battle of personalities. America needs a better debate than that.

And I'd start the debate by getting rid of the "commission on Presidential debates" and letting the League of Women Voters do the job again. And let the LWV, not the networks, determine who are viable candidates. Heck, get Ralph Nader involved too -- just so Americans can see for themselves how irrelevant he has become.

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