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Charles Laffiteau’s Republican politics, American style

Last update - Thursday, January 24, 2008, 00:00 By Metro Éireann

 Last week I discussed Barack Obama’s opposition to the invasion of Iraq, at a time when it was politically unpopular to do so, as an example of the senator’s strongly held principles, keen insight and good judgement. I also quoted Senator Obama regarding his vision of America and that its role in the world was to lead by example – words which I feel reflect his belief in America’s unique capacity to inspire people both in the US and around the world and to provide leadership through America’s actions rather than its economic and military might. 

These are attributes I believe one should look for in a true leader but there are other ways in which Obama has distinguished himself from all of the other Republican and Democratic candidates. Republicans Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, as well as Democrats Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, are all millionaires who have raised most of their Presidential campaign funds by tapping the wallets of other wealthy party members (and in Romney’s case, his own personal fortune).

While Obama also has his share of wealthy supporters, Clinton has raised the vast majority of her estimated $120m by soliciting wealthy Democrats and lobbyists for the maximum ($2,300 each) that they can contribute to the Democratic primary and general elections. Another source of much of Clinton’s campaign cash have been political action committees (PACs), which are used by Washington lobbyists to funnel money to candidates they believe will be friendly to the interests they represent, should they be elected. Clinton also transferred millions of dollars left over from her 2006 senate campaign to her Presidential campaign fund.

By contrast, Obama did not have any funds from his senate campaign to use as seed money for a Presidential bid. So the estimated $100m Obama has used for his Democratic Presidential campaign was raised without transferring funds from any other campaign fund, and includes no money from federal lobbyists or PACs because he has refused to accept such funds. Furthermore, very few of Obama’s supporters have yet given the $2,300 maximum allowed by US law because the vast majority of his campaign donors are not wealthy Americans.

This contrast in financial support for their political campaigns is also reflected in the large number of grassroots supporters Obama has drawn to his campaign. He has received considerable media attention for his use of the internet to help build a base of over 450,000 financial contributors during the first nine months – this figure is more than double the number of campaign donors Clinton has tapped to raise a similar amount of funds, and more than triple the number of supporters any of the other candidates have received donations from.

With average donations in the hundreds rather than thousands of dollars and no funds from PACs and lobbyists, Obama may be much more likely to propose policies and legislation that are truly in the best interests of all Americans, not just the wealthy, business lobbyists and other special interest groups. None of the other candidates can back up their claims that they will not be subject to undue influence with the kind of actions Obama has taken to insulate himself and his campaign from the influence wealthy contributors are always seeking to buy.

For the sake of argument, I will use Clinton to illustrate my point about some of the ways influence can be bought. Back in President Bill Clinton’s days as Governor of Arkansas, a US cement maker named Lafarge paid Hillary Clinton $31,000 a year to serve as one of its directors, while her husband was earning $35,000 a year serving as Governor of the state of Arkansas. Just before Bill Clinton was elected President, the US Environmental Protection Agency fined Lafarge $1.8m for pollution violations at one of its cement plants. Would it surprise you to know that the Clinton Administration reduced that fine to less than $600,000 the very next year?

Did you know that even though US senators are required by law to disclose gifts they receive on their ethics report, they don’t have to disclose gifts that are given to their spouses? That means Hillary Clinton didn’t have to report the flag-shaped white gold brooch containing 177 small diamonds and rubies that her husband received from the World Diamond Conference in Belgium. Since when did it become fashionable for men to wear diamond brooches?

There are several other issues that further distinguish Obama from his competition. Clinton and others have questioned whether or not Obama has the experience and/or the toughness required to be President of the most powerful country in the world. To this charge, Obama has replied: “What I’ve always found is people who talk about how tough they are aren’t the tough ones. I’m less interested in beating my chest and rattling my sabre and more in making decisions that build a safer and more secure world. We can and should lead the world, but we have to apply wisdom and judgment. Part of our capacity to lead is linked to our capacity to show restraint.”

It goes without saying that the ‘more experienced’ Republican and Democratic candidates are also the ones who supported President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq and, in the case of Clinton, Bush’s recent sabre-rattling with regard to Iran.

It is significant to note that Clinton has recently changed her stance on the politically explosive issue of illegal immigration, saying that she no longer supports the idea of giving illegal immigrant drivers’ licences for identification. I will discuss this and other differences next week.
Charles Laffiteau is a lifelong US Republican from Dallas, Texas, and has recently completed DCU's postgraduate programme in Globalisation, International Relations and Conflict

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