Saturday, January 20, 2007

When “Can’t” Means “Can”

The headline on the Political Money Line story ran, “Sen. Dodd Not To Run for Re-Election In 2010, Uses PAC to Buy NH and IA Voter Files.” And the story, unaccountably, was not followed by the usual scurrying for position that would attend the announcement by a multi-term US senator that he does not intend to run for his seat when his term expires.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, presently in charge of Dodd’s presidential campaign in Connecticut, who has declined several times to run for governor because, it had been rumored, he really was interested in being a US senator, did not prematurely leap in front of the cameras to announce his availability, and Kevin Sullivan, once a heartbeat away from the governor’s mansion but now in semi-retirement, bit his tongue.

But really “Dodd Not To Run For Re-Election In 2010,” No kidding! Sup with that?

The morning’s paper explained it all: The shocking announcement sent to the Federal Election Commission by Dodd’s lawyer was just a necessary precondition, a little white lie, so that Dodd would be able to shift campaign funds from his senatorial to his presidential coffers and back again, should he lose his presidential bid.

Under present campaign finance regulations, such shifting of funds is frowned upon. But to a lawyer’s ears – and Dodd is a lawyer, among his other accomplishments – the rule simply means that a senator who is a candidate for president need only send a letter to the FEC announcing he will not campaign for senator after his term expires, and then he may shift to his presidential account money he has gathered from those who gave on the presumption that they were contributing to a US senator and not a future president of the United States.

But suppose Dodd loses his bid to be president, impossible as this may seem, and suppose his senatorial ambitions resurface immediately upon his presidential loss. May he then reverse the process, have his lawyer write another little white lie to the FEC, and by these means – perfectly legal, mind you – recover for his senatorial bid the money he had promised to use only for presidential bid?

He may indeed. And the transaction will not only be legal; it will be ethically irreproachable as well.

How do we know this?

Because, you silly, Blumenthal, a veritable white knight of ethical probity, is the Connecticut chairman of Dodd’s presidential campaign, and snowballs would freeze in Hell before Blumenthal would permit Dodd’s campaign to be besmirched by ethical improprieties. Furthermore – and this really disposes of all petty objections – John McCain, author of the McCain/Feingold campaign finance regulations – did exactly the same thing, according to a report in the Journal Inquirer, in his 2000 presidential campaign.

If these two unassailable arguments do not completely win the public’s confidence that it is perfectly ethical to a) state in a letter to the FEC that your senatorial career will not extend beyond the present term and then later, when your best laid presidential plans have been torn asunder, b) contrive to use the funds to support both a presidential and a senatorial bid, think of this: If this transparent attempt to dodge campaign finance regulations were not perfectly ethical, would not Connecticut’s corrupt-averse media have made a grand fuss about it?

There has been no fuss. Blumenthal is down with it, McCain is down with it. Ergo: No ethical impropriety has occurred.

There are two times in a man’s life when “can’t” means “can.”

Children, Dodd certainly knows, having been blessed with two lovely children late in his course in life, may be willfully perverse. Full of the will to believe, young children sometime can convince themselves that their made up fantasies are true. That is why they are able to lie with such conviction. As they grow towards the truth, their parents try, with varying degrees of success, to wean them from these and other bad habits by convincing them that there is an objectively verifiable world outside their craniums that may bring them sharply up if they fail to take its measure.

Sometimes parents are successful, sometimes not. When they fail, the objectively verifiable world will correct its charges – none too kindly.

Some children, luckier than others, grow up to be politicians; and there, surrounded by admirers and lawyers and unchecked ambition, what a field for self delusion opens up to them. The whispers in the child’s ear -- how easy it is to deceive others when first one has deceived oneself -- are set loose in imaginary fields of daisy and clover.

After which, reality intervenes.

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