Political reporters listened to a remarkable series of conference calls where two of the nation's finest lawyers argued over what the meaning of the word "aggressive" was and what the original intent of said meeting. Not exactly the KGB resident and the Berlin Chief of Station meeting, but it came close: there was misdirection, submerged motivations, suspicion, rivalry (Bauer and Potter have been on opposite sides of the campaign finance reform debate for a decade), and cryptic language. Actually, the truth is pretty plain, as almost all of the reports today will reflect. Barack Obama did not pursue aggressive negotiations with the McCain campaign over the public financing system fo rthe general election. He reversed his position wearing just a figleaf over his naugty motives, but almost no one -- not even, privately, some McCain advisers, berudges him for being ambitious and acting in the service of his ambitoins. In another era, they might even buy his argument: "OK, so I went back on my word. But I discovered a new, and better, public financing system and I'm going with that." In another era, McCain aides might have bought the Obama arugment that McCain began the general election months earlier and has been raising and spending money exclusively for the purpose, and that, by obtaining loans on the basis of the presumed primary financing windful, McCain had it both ways and enjoyed it both ways.
Unclear is whether one of the lawyers, McCain's general counsel Trevor Potter, was essentially sandbagged by the Obama campaign into an unadvertised discussion of public financing that, inter alia, would later be used as the sufficient and necessary "aggressive" negotiations that Mr. Obama had promised. But it is hard to believe that a 40 minute conversation where at least two different subjects were discussed was tantamount to a vigorous pursuit of a negotiation, but it should have also been clear from the hints that Mr. Bauer dropped in the conversation that Obama was not inclined to opt in. In any event, Bauer says he was tasked by the campaign to conduct negotiations and he said he did what was asked. His tasking did not include a notation -- ("Dear Bob: make sure the negotiations are aggressive. From: D. Plouffe"), and Bauer's take away was pretty clear: the McCain campaign didn't really want to negotiate. Potter said he had no idea that the meeting was intended to give Bauer a clue as to whether the McCain campaign would indeed be willing to bargain.
No need to go over the timelines as presented by the lawyers. Both Potter and his Obama counterpart, Robert Bauer, listened to the conference calls live, and so their responses and clams are presented unvarnished.
The upshot here is that Obama is going to have at least $100 million to spend that the RNC and John McCain and whatever 527s exist will not. Add in the Democrats' labor spending, and that advantage is probably at least $200 million. Financial disparities tend not to matter unless they are huge, and this year, they are huge. McCain will need all that much more of a moment in a debate, or a major Obama gaffe, to perservere.
Kudos, by the way, to the media for reporting this straight. All three evening newscasts, as the RNC noticed, made sure to note Obama's reversal.
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