Let's step into Bizarro World for a second and pretend that Obama had decided to stick to his original vow, abandoning the prospect of raising untold hundreds of millions of dollars in favor of accepting the <$90 million="" constraints="" of="" public="" financing.<="" p="">
Can you imagine what the reaction would have been?
The same people who are now squawking sanctimoniously about Obama's choosing "tactics over truth" would have instead been pillorying the candidate for blithely throwing his biggest gun in the river.
The headlines write themselves:
Unilateral Disarmament: For General Election, Obama Dismantles Vaunted Money Machine
Millions Spurned: Obama Shows Micro Donors "The Hand"
Starry Eyes, Empty Pockets: Bowing to Finance Purists, Obama Risks Defeat in November
McCain Now Able: Obama's Money Move a Boon to Cash-Strapped Republican
Seriously. Pundits would be having a field day, mocking Obama for lacking a killer instinct, for his misguided decision to put high-minded principle before tough-minded tactics.
In as much as this plays into the larger narrative of toughness, it would have been just another lens for the Bill Kristols of the world to play up Obama's appeasement instinct (as in: Obama has shown he's more serious about appeasing campaign finance reformers than he is about winning) and his legalistic worldview (as in: Obama's naive adherence to the letter of outmoded campaign finance law should trouble anyone worried about his willingness to prosecute the war on terror as just that — a war.)
It's clear that opting out of campaign finance was the right decision. When the stakes are this high, you don't go into battle with one hand tied behind your back. You exploit your advantages without mercy. You wage asymmetrical warfare.
Sure. It's a cynical decision in part. The Populist 2.0 cool factor of millions of micro donors makes the pill less bitter to swallow. But this is still a sign that ruthlessness can, indeed, trump idealism in Obamaland.
But if you're going to boost one negative, best to do it in a way that counteracts another. The meta-narrative that haunted Obama through the Clinton primary marathon is that he lacked a go-for-the-jugular drive, that his airy-fairy Politics of Hope were too kid-gloved for the bare-knuckled brawl of a general election.
The media were gagging for him to "take the gloves off." And in abandoning public finance, he's done just that.