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A Make-or-Break Moment for Democracy | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

A Make-or-Break Moment for Democracy

Editor’s Note: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

President Obama’s decision to endorse super-PAC money as part of his re-election effort exposed the enduring divisions within the progressive community between pragmatism and idealism. Robert Reich, for example, put his disappointment bluntly: “Good ends don’t justify corrupt means.” Jonathan Chait disagreed, writing that “if you want to change the system, unilateral disarmament seems like a pretty bad way to go about it.”

The ambivalence is palpable—and understandable. I’ve felt it myself. On the one hand, we are seeing our worst fears realized. When the Supreme Court handed down its Citizens United decision, the concern was not just that one party would take advantage of it but that both parties would decide they had to adapt to it. The president has never held high moral ground on campaign finance (he withdrew from public financing in the 2008 campaign) but his willful, if reluctant, decision to submerge himself further in a system that actively stains our democracy is troubling.

And yet, I understand his decision. I even reluctantly agree with it. I remember how massively George W. Bush outspent Al Gore in 2000, both during the campaign and the recount. I remember the price that John Kerry paid for staying within the campaign finance system in 2004, leaving him exposed to the Swift Boat attacks in August as he tried to stretch his public allotment over three months instead of just two.

Editor’s Note: Read the full-text of Katrina’s column here.

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