A not-very-surprising response from McCain’s Jill Hazelbaker:
“Today, Barack Obama has revealed himself to be just another typical politician who will do and say whatever is most expedient for Barack Obama.
“The true test of a candidate for President is whether he will stand on principle and keep his word to the American people. Barack Obama has failed that test today, and his reversal of his promise to participate in the public finance system undermines his call for a new type of politics.
“Barack Obama is now the first presidential candidate since Watergate to run a campaign entirely on private funds. This decision will have far-reaching and extraordinary consequences that will weaken and undermine the public financing system.”
Obviously, the McCain camp is angry because they’ve just lost one of things that they hoped might level the playing field. Obama’s spending advantage will be enormous. So they want to make what political point they can with the move, pushing a narrative that Obama is unprincipled and cynical. But is what he did so bad? Looking back over what Obama’s spokesperson said last year*, this decision does seem to be more than a flip-flop or change of heart — he didn’t just have an opinion about public financing (in fact, he declares that he’s still for it), he made a promise to another person to engage in it. And then, for reasons that you may consider legitimate or not, he reneged. People who care more about Obama beating McCain than this particular issue may not care. It’s as if Kobe Bryant agreed to play Kevin Garnett as long as they both had one had tied behind their back and then, when Garnett said “yes,” changed his mind. Fans of Bryant would probably cheer the decision, and point out that league rules don’t require anyone to play with one hand tied behind his back, and, in fact, Garnett is himself breaking the hands-behind-the-back agreement because he has secured only his elbow, leaving his lower arm free.
Anyway: It may not be sleazy to change your mind about promise when it means you have to sacrifice something, but it is very typical of traditional politicians — a category that, lately, John McCain having some difficultly avoiding himself.
What’s more, I’m not sure McCain’s message here will mean anything to most voters. The standard rule of thumb about whether a decision/gaffe/position can hurt a candidate is if you can make a convincing 30-second ad out of it. How would you convince a viewer that Obama broke his word, much less convince them that it matters, between Lost flashbacks? Not that people won’t try.
*For those who claim that Obama’s “agreement” was somehow not a “promise” or “pledge” but rather, gosh, I actually don’t know what the level between “blue-skying” and “promise” might be called. A possibility? Anyhow, if it wasn’t a promise, how come Obama’s people never pushed back on the huge amount of coverage at the time that portrayed it as just that?
UPDATE: Some language changed for clarity and poetry.