Take a second to jot down these numbers: 287, 610, and 659.
Today is April 2, 2007. We are 287 days from the first Democratic caucus in Iowa. And 610 days remain before the national presidential election. It will be 659 days before the 44th President of the United States takes the oath of office. That is not exactly a small period of time, people. In fact, it’s just slightly more than three times the length of James Garfield’s entire presidency. And yet, with nearly two years left to go, we have already reached the first official benchmark in the 2008 presidential election: the first-quarter fund-raising reports to the Federal Election Commission.
Perhaps this particular benchmark does not get the same level of attention as the Iowa caucus and the rest of the primaries do. In fact, it’s possible that a healthy majority of Americans aren’t really aware of this benchmark at all – I can only speculate. But the disclosure of fundraising totals has become an accepted measurement by which to gauge a candidate’s perceived electability. This is not a measurement of ideas, experience, vision, or values; this is a tool designed to measure just one thing: money.
This past week, money took top priority in every candidate’s campaign as this deadline approached. Each scrambled to get as much in the bank as possible by March 31st, so as to appear as electable as possible 610 days from now. And based on the reports already in, it looks as though all this scrambling has paid off for most of the democratic contenders. Joseph Biden brought in $3 million. Chris Dodd brought in $4 million. Bill Richardson raised $6 million. John Edwards raised $14 million. And Hillary Clinton brought in $26 million – beating the previous record three times over. As of this posting, Barack Obama has yet to announce his fundraising totals for the first quarter.
And you know what? I’m not sure I really care about any of this.
I happen to believe that the value placed on this benchmark is a symptom of sick system. Nothing more. Instead of evaluating the traits and skills each candidate has to earn their way to the White House, it merely assesses the dollars and cents each has to pay their way into the White House. I reject the idea that the system by which our president is elected should so closely resemble the procedures of a Sotheby’s auction. And I particularly reject the notion that one’s perceived lack of electability 287 days before the first caucus somehow disqualifies him or her from further pursuing a presidential bid.
This system cannot be about money. It must be about more. It must be more substantive, more reasoned, and more inclusive. Changing this system, therefore, quite honestly requires a leader who is uniquely substantive, reasonable, and inclusive in his or her approach – someone who is willing to say that a new kind of politics is needed.
And therefore, a new measurement is needed.
Barack Obama rocked the very notion of the first-quarter fund-raising reports this past week when he announced that his campaign would use this deadline to focus on two values more central to the interests of the people: first, the breadth of people who support a campaign that seeks a new kind of politics and second, the depth of their commitment to give to such a campaign again and again in small ways.
In an e-mail to supporters, Obama wrote this:
“It’s simple: get more people involved, more deeply than ever before. Those are our goals for the end of the quarter, and for the rest of this campaign. Whether you’ve given before or this will be your first time, you can make a statement that people count… If we really hope to meet the challenges of our time, we have to change what our politics is about, and that means changing what campaigns are about — not just dollar amounts and million-dollar goals, but millions of people working for a cause bigger than themselves.”
Who knows what Obama’s numbers will be once he makes his fundraising report public? Whether he surpasses his campaign goals or falls significantly short, I believe he has already transcended this benchmark by showing unmatched leadership in challenging this system’s basic dysfunction. Instead, he has dignified the entire process by placing the premium on people, not dollars. It is something no other candidate dared to do last week. Not to suggest that Biden, Dodd, Richardson, Edwards, and Clinton are not equally disenchanted with the process; I have every reason to believe they place similar importance on the people. Yet, only Obama offered an alternative approach, and this most recent example of his peerless vision and principle demonstrates why he is already leading a path for others to follow.
Okay, now jot down these numbers: 83, 531 and 108,095.
The first is how many people have donated to Obama’s campaign for a new kind of politics; the second is how many donations have been received in all. I look forward to tracking those numbers 287 days from now, and 610 days from now, so that 659 days from now we truly might create a type of politics that is more substantive, more reasoned, and more inclusive.