Commentary Magazine


Clean Hands, Empty Record

Barack Obama took a swipe at John McCain for his staff’s violation of the campaign’s stated ethics/lobbying policy. The McCain campaign blasted back. The media focused on a McCain spokesman’s eye-catching suggestion that the friend of unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayers did not want to get into the game of guilt by association.

We have seen the Obama camp play fast and loose with the identity and role of its advisors. Robert Malley really wasn’t one, we were told. Zbigniew Brzezinski really isn’t that important, we’re assured. Austan Goolsbee really isn’t an official spokesman, you see. All of this sets up a fog of unaccountability and makes it virtually impossible to determine whether conflicts of interest exist, and more importantly who has the ear of the presumptive nominee. So much for a new era of transparency.

In the case of supposedly tainted legislative actions, the McCain camp has scrambled to demonstrate that McCain acted independently of any lobbying influence, in keeping with his own policy viewpoints and/or as part of a bipartisan effort. (Somehow we don’t hear much about Obama’s $1M earmark for his wife’s employer.) But Obama hasn’t done much of anything in Washington and hasn’t sponsored or participated in many legislative battles small or large. So his hands and his associations in Washington can remain relatively pristine. And he’s attempted to transform his paucity of experience into an advantage. McCain is a “creature of Washington,” he says. But what is he? What is his comparable record of accomplishment? What are the means by which we can assess his ability to withstand illicit influence?