By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Earlier this year, Obama hurriedly fired his just-named vice-presidential search committee chairman, James Johnson, after major newspapers reported that Johnson, as a Fannie Mae executive, accepted huge payouts based on alleged accounting manipulations, and got personal home loans below market rates from the subprime-mortgage lender Countrywide Financial. Critics will be watching closely to see if President Obama tries to paper things over at Fannie Mae.
According to Stern, an expert on campaign-finance reform, labor unions, which have helped Obama through millions of dollars in donations to independent committees, will probably seek changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement — no small thing. Bill Clinton infuriated unions by pushing bipartisan backing of the free-trade deal. For Obama to unwind it in some way would almost certainly put him at odds with thousands of business leaders, among others.
Trial lawyers, who have sent millions of dollars to Obama, will want “to make sure there’s not more eroding of punitive damages” to plaintiffs, Stern says. And Wall Street executives, who have thrown millions at the Obama campaign, will want to keep the new president from “too aggressively tamping down their salaries.” Stern says Obama needs to handle these constituencies “carefully.” If he fails to do so, and if the media go after Obama for failing, the new president could quickly turn off the average American.
“The first reaction will be ‘politics as usual,’” says Stern, “and then the public will think he’s not as idealistic as they thought he would be. They’ll think he’s just another politician.”
Stern adds, “Obama is bound to disappoint,” predicting, “he’ll probably have a honeymoon of 30 days instead of 100 days.”
Josh Israel disagrees, saying a political backlash will only get traction if Obama missteps wildly. “It depends on what kind of favors he’s doling out,” Israel says. “The American public pays more attention to things like the energy task force with Bush or when Clinton allowed people to sleep in the Lincoln bedroom. The question is whether people are given special access or relatively superficial things.”
Nick Nyhart believes a victorious Obama must address the influence of big money within the first few months. If Obama “doesn’t lay out his plan for change in Washington,” Nyhart says, “he will ignore a large chunk of his platform that got him elected.”
Nyhart himself is one of those who hopes to pressure Obama should he be elected. He expects Obama to establish a better system of public financing for elections and push forward legislation that “runs counter to the interests of big oil, big health-care corporations and Wall Street.”
And Julie Rajan, executive director of the Los Angeles–based California Clean Money, which advocates public financing of campaigns, wants Obama or McCain to “completely overhaul” the system. “If we take away that need for big money in the first place,” Rajan reasons, “then [politicians] will not be beholden to major donors.”
She says both candidates are capable of tackling such change, but notes, “whether they have the will is another question.”
On October 26, Obama walked onto the stage at Civic Center Park in Denver, to greet a crowd of 100,000. “Goodness gracious,” Obama said, as he surveyed the scene.
The show of support, though, should not have been surprising. The Obama campaign arrived in Colorado months earlier, setting up more than 40 field offices, compared to McCain’s dozen or so. It spent millions of dollars on TV ads wooing Latino voters, and on flying Michelle and Barack Obama into Colorado for regular visits. Although McCain was leading slightly in the state in early August, Obama had, by late October, moved ahead by 12 percentage points.
The Illinois senator’s strategy to be an overwhelming force had obviously paid off.
But as Obama addressed the Denver crowd, he didn’t talk about his record-setting fund-raising totals or the need to change the influence of big-money donors on Washington. He spoke about taking on insurance companies, ending the country’s reliance on foreign oil, and ending tax cuts for companies that ship jobs to other countries — initiatives that would rile some of Washington’s biggest lobbying groups, which donate millions of dollars to presidential and congressional campaigns and will fight any change in the way they do business.
If Obama wins and tries to keep his campaign promises, the test will be whether he resists wealthy special interests. And both his backers and his detractors will be observing him with the same question in mind: Can the latest president to ride into the White House on a sea of special-interest money break the old, shatterproof mold?