With no compelling message to sell voters on rewarding them with a continuation of their power, Democrats have seized upon an Internet meme and seemingly transformed it into their campaign theme. ThinkProgress, a liberal-leaning blog, published a post a few days ago speculating that the US Chamber of Commerce was using foreign money to spend during the midterm elections. The story has since been co-opted by the DNC and broadcast by President Obama, Vice President Biden, and White House political advisor David Axelrod in campaign appearances on the road and on TV, with the DNC putting out a TV ad with the same message.
There’s only one big problem with this political Hail Mary – there’s not a shred of evidence to back it up. As the New York Times noted last week, groups from the AFL-CIO to the Sierra Club partially gather international dues and simultaneously fund domestic political operations. The Chamber’s operations are nothing out of the ordinary, and they have since strongly stated that their accounting practices assure that none of the international funds went to political campaigning.
Factcheck.org is similarly harsh on the claim, noting that the Federal Election Commission only requires any “reasonable accounting method” to separate domestic and international funding, and says there is absolutely no evidence to the pie-in-the-sky claims.
Nobody outside of the hard left is taking the claim seriously, so what does the White House do in the face of opposition and rebuke? Double down on the claim, of course. On the Face the Nation, Bob Schieffer noted the lack of evidence and asked David Axelrod, “Do you have any evidence this isn’t peanuts?” David Axelrod amazingly responded, “Well, do you have any evidence it’s not, Bob?” Axelrod’s galling spin puts the onus on the Chamber to somehow prove it wasn’t performing campaign finance fraud, creating a guilty until proven innocent environment perfect for political demonization but wholly incompatible with a society that believes in the rule of law.
Schieffer’s response pretty much sums it all up: “Is that the best you can do?”
It appears that it is, as the attacks will continue until Election Day. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has promised that the President will not back away from the charge and will repeat the lines about needing to see donors and open up their books to prove they’re who they say they are (a position, as Jake Tapper brilliantly put to Axelrod, that sounds a lot like Birtherism). And the Democratic National Committee, as mentioned, has put out a national ad accusing the Chamber of using foreign money to buy elections, an ad that Baltimore Sun media critic David Zurawik calls the new low in midterm mud and likens to McCarthyism.
Why does this all sound the death knell for Democratic Congressional hopes? That a wholly unsubstantiated charge is being broadcast from such levels of power as the Presidency and with such ferocity illustrate that after two years and multiple historic pieces of legislation, a wholly unsubstantiated charge is essentially all the administration has to talk about.
These attacks may satisfy some urges among the liberal base, but they are not playing well with the rest of the nation. There are no answers on unemployment, the economy, Iran, uncertainty on health care and taxation – just that the Chamber might be using foreign money to buy commercials. Even if the charge somehow stuck and ended up discrediting the Chamber in some way, how in the world would that change the electoral reality for Democrats and Republicans?
It’s a move of desperation that should quell any talks of a Democratic surge, a bounce that has been largely invisible in the polls. The attacks demonstrate that, instead of pointing to their record of accomplishments, this administration seems to perpetually need a dramatic villain of some kind in order to put forward themselves as a positive alternative. It underlines that those accomplishments are indeed thin, and we ought to be wary of those who would use a branch of government as a political cudgel against those that disagree with them.