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Let Me Get This Straight

On a day in which he is hip-deep in James Johnson goo, Barack Obama did a forum on mortgage lending practices? Nah, it can’t be. That would be the height of hypocrisy and the evidence that Obama’s fine-tuned machine had stepped on it’s own message. Oh, wait–it’s true. It has become clear that until Wednesday Obama still didn’t realize anything was amiss. As the New York Times noted:

Mr. Obama had defended Mr. Johnson as recently as Tuesday, saying that he had only a “tangential” role in his campaign and that he was not troubled by his business activities. He said he had not inquired about his mortgages and would not hire people to, as he put it, “vet the vetters.” But Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, and Republican Party officials kept up a steady drumbeat of criticism of Mr. Johnson. The case became a test of Mr. Obama’s professed independence from Washington insiders and supposed higher ethical standards. Mr. Obama has refused to accept campaign donations from lobbyists and had made criticism of the cozy financial and political relationships in the capital a hallmark of his campaign rhetoric.

Even aside from his poor choice of topics on Wednesday, the hypocrisy watchdogs had spotted the problem. Jake Tapper observed:

A consummate Washington, D.C., insider, Johnson’s leadership role in Obama’s campaign seemed to belie the candidate’s promise to voters that "the stakes are too high and the challenges too great to play the same Washington game with the same Washington players and expect a different result."

But beyond that contradiction and Johnson’s controversial time at Fannie Mae was the issue of what Republicans termed Johnson’s "sweetheart" loan from Countrywide. Earlier this year, Obama and his campaign had impugned Sen. Hillary Clinton for taking money from Countrywide lobbyists and for allowing a senior campaign adviser to simultaneously do work for Countrywide."

Tapper noted that, although Obama had excoriated Countrywide in a swing through the Rust belt in March,

[w]hen Obama was asked about Johnson’s special loan from Countrywide Tuesday in St. Louis, outrage seemed the furthest emotion he could muster.

"I am not vetting my VP search committee for their mortgages," he said after ABC News asked him about the apparent contradiction. "This is a game that can be played. Everybody you know who is tangentially related to our campaign I think Is going to have a whole host of relationships. I would have to hire the vetter to vet the vetters."

As Gail Collins put it, "Talk about unnecessary disasters." Unnecessary but not unexpected. In no other instance of brewing trouble–Bittergate or Rev. Wright, to name two–did Obama’s early warning signal go off that something was amiss. When you believe your own press releases and listen to your media fan club, you wind up thinking that no one will call you on it when you hire a Washington fixer and go to predatory lending events on the day you fire a recipient of discounted loans.

It is becoming easier to understand how Obama got swept into the orbit of Tony Rezko: he seems to lack basic common sense about the appearance of ethical improprieties and possesses the arrogance to believe no one will question his motives. It’s a deadly combination. As the Wall Street Journal editors put it:

As for Mr. Obama, Mr. Johnson now joins an intriguing and growing list of Mr. Obama’s ex-associates that includes the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Father Michael Pfleger, and former terrorist bomber William Ayers. We might call this list eclectic, except that there is a consistent pattern of bad judgment followed by an initial defense, then followed by rapid disassociation and regret that none of them were the men Mr. Obama "knew." We can only wonder if Eric Holder, who is also among Mr. Obama’s veep vetters, will be the next to join this club. As Deputy Attorney General in the Clinton Administration, he played a role in the Marc Rich pardon that also deserves to be fully vetted – all the more so if Mr. Holder is on the short list to be Mr. Obama’s Attorney General.

And, finally, can you imagine the Clintons’ reaction–this is Mr. Clean-Hands-Pure-Heart? At least with Hillary Clinton expectations would have been low and a character like Johnson would have elicited only yawns.

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