Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., will break his campaign pledge, rejecting public funding for the general election and allowing the Democratic candidate to possibly raise record millions for his White House battle against Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
"You've already changed the way campaigns are funded because you know that's the only way we can truly change how Washington works. And that's the path we will continue in this general election," Obama said in a video message sent to supporters Thursday.
That would be admirable, save for this Obama quote, from November: "If I am the Democratic nominee, I will aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election." (He's been the presumptive nominee for less than two weeks, and there was no aggressive pursuit, for the record.)
Maybe it's the curse of the Senate, or the price of running for president, or something particular about these two candidates or this unusual year but to a remarkable degree, the candidates are debating themselves -- whether it's Sen. McCain on taxes, offshore drilling, and his relationship with President Bush, or Sen. Obama on trade, public financing for his campaign, and his relationship with the Bush-Cheney energy bill.
Both have valuable brands at stake. And Obama's suffers a blow Thursday morning, with his decision to abandon his pledge on running with public financing.
And Obamaland is learning anew what's already known: It's great defense up until the moment it's offensive.
That's why two Michigan women in headscarves matter: Obama's appeal to inclusiveness loses a piece of vital credibility every time the promise of a new kind of politics proves hollow -- whether it's the campaign's fault or not.
"Two Muslim women at Barack Obama's rally in Detroit on Monday were barred from sitting behind the podium by campaign volunteers seeking to prevent the women's headscarves from appearing in photographs or on television with the candidate," Politico's Ben Smith reports. "For Obama, the old-fashioned image-making contrasts with his promise to transcend identity politics and to embrace all elements of America."
"It illustrates how the pressures of image-making in a presidential campaign combined with sensitivities over unfounded rumors that Obama is secretly a Muslim can create a sudden storm -- awkwardly in metro Detroit, home to the nation's most influential community of Arab Americans," Chris Christoff and Niraj Warikoo write in the Detroit Free Press.
"[Hebba] Aref, a 25-year-old lawyer, said a member of her group was told by a volunteer that she could not invite Aref because of 'a sensitive political climate,' " per the AP's Jeff Karoub. Obama spokesman Bill Burton, on the actions of campaign volunteers who must have thought they were doing the candidate a favor: "It is offensive and counter to Obama's commitment to bring Americans together and simply not the kind of campaign we run."
(Flashback 10 weeks: "We need more white people," said the Obama volunteer.)
This is the price for image (and access) control (and hints at one vastly underestimated McCain advantage): The incident "pointed to pitfalls the campaign faces as it moves into the general election and seeks to maintain control of Mr. Obama's image by tightly managing his public appearances," Jim Rutenberg and Jeff Zeleny write in The New York Times.