U.S. President Barack Obama arrives in San Francsico, November 25, 2013.
Jason Reed/Reuters

The limits of hypocrisy

Last year, President Obama attended a fundraiser in support of congressional Democrats, prompting unusual Republican criticism. The RNC insisted Obama “ran against” the wealthiest Americans in 2012, but was then seeking campaign contributions from wealthy donors in 2013. “It’s the definition of hypocrisy,” the Republican National Committee argued.
 
It was kind of amusing at the time, because that’s not at all what “hypocrisy” means. Having a policy agenda that focuses on lifting up working families, while asking more from the very wealthy, does not preclude seeking contributions from those who also support that agenda. Get a dictionary – this simply isn’t “the definition of hypocrisy.”
 
A year later, it’s not just Republicans who find this confusing. The Chicago Tribune ran this story last week:
In a day of contradictory messaging, President Barack Obama on Thursday assailed income inequality and the stagnant earnings of the middle class after appearing at a $50,000-a-person Gold Coast fundraiser for Gov. Pat Quinn.
But there was no “contradiction.” Obama said economic inequality is a problem, and he sought support from those who agree with him. His allies wrote checks in support of the president’s message, and some of those donors are themselves wealthy. There’s nothing “contradictory” about any of this.
 
Yesterday, The Week added:
While speaking at a fundraiser in Greenwich, Connecticut on Tuesday, Obama cast the 2014 midterm elections as a fight between moneyed interests in the Republican Party and populist Democrats…. Obama’s argument was undercut, however, by the fact that his fundraiser was hosted by a billionaire named – no joke – Rich Richman. Donors paid as much as $32,400 to attend, and the estate where the event was hosted is valued at a cool $26 million.
This keeps happening and I’m not sure why. Some wealthy people support economic policies that will bolster working families. A wealthy president regularly asks those wealthy people for financial backing in order to implement those policies.
 
Where’s the problem, exactly?
 
I’m not even sure why Republicans and some in the media find this confusing. If Obama condemned fundraisers with wealthy donors, and then attended fundraisers with wealthy donors anyway, that would be a problem. If Obama said presidents shouldn’t try to raise funds for other candidates, then he went to these fundraisers for other candidates, criticism would obviously be warranted. If Obama claimed to support economic populism in public, but then offered an entirely different message to donors, his critics would be right to go after him.
 
But none of these hypothetical scenarios reflect what’s actually happening. Reality is actually pretty simple:
 
1. Obama is going to fundraisers.
 
2. He’s pushing the same economic message at these events that he pitches publicly all the time – advocating an agenda he’s supported for many years.
 
3. Some people write checks in order to go to these fundraisers and support Obama’s vision.
 
4. Many of these donors are wealthy (and some have names the media finds amusing).
 
The president occasionally does things worthy of criticism. This isn’t one of them.
 

Barack Obama and Fundraising

The limits of hypocrisy