Governor Rod Blagojevich is certain to go down in flames, but Barack Obama should make it through this scandal just fine. Why, then, is the President-elect acting so guilty?
For example, Obama came out immediately and denied that he had any talks with Blagojevich or his folks about filling Illinois’ vacant Senate seat. That is just not credible. Obama was one of two senators representing Illinois. Blagojevich is the governor of Illinois, and he has the power to name Obama’s successor. It would be entirely natural, appropriate, and even almost required for Blagojevich to discuss the matter with Obama. After all, Obama held the seat for almost four years and has an obligation to the people he promised a full six-year term to see they get the best representation. Moreover, as president, he will have to work with the new senator on getting his legislative agenda passed.
But perhaps Obama is too busy to manage the discussions. So he ought to delegate the matter to a trusted close aide. And who would be better than his chief of staff-to be, Rahm Emanuel? Also, Emanuel had succeeded Blagojevich in the House, when Blagojevich left to run for governor. (A campaign with Barack Obama as a senior advisor, it should be noted.) So it should be no surprise if Emanuel was talking with the Blagojevich people about the Senate appointment.
But no, that never happened. There were no contacts. Period. Obama had thoroughly washed his hands of the Senate seat the instant he won the election.
At least, that was the story. It’s now coming out that there were numerous contacts, and Emanuel was indeed in the thick of it.
Even that is not so bad. Emanuel is pretty much exonerated by the recordings of Blagojevich so far, in which the Governor profanely lays into Obama for not wanting to play ball and put in a bid for the Senate seat.
That just isn’t enough, though. Not for the Obama camp. They must not be touched by the slightest taint of a scandal. So Emanuel never ever spoke with Blagojevich or his people. No matter what any records might indicate.
And it isn’t just Emanuel whose Blagojevich ties are being buried. Attorney General nominee Eric Holder has his own extremely questionable past. He was instrumental in helping Marc Rich obtain his pardon in the waning days of the Clinton administration, he was involved in the Elian Gonzalez deportation at gunpoint (even denying that it was at gunpoint), and he co-wrote a brief backing the DC gun ban that was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in the Heller case. Most importantly, he was hand-picked by Governor Blagojevich himself to deal with some controversies surrounding a casino license.
Yet again, nothing scandalous about it. But it was still concealed from the public.
A lot of people have been saying that President Obama will govern much like Jimmy Carter. While that may ultimately prove correct, right now he’s acting a lot more like Richard Nixon during the Watergate investigation. We’ve already had a few rounds of “this is the operative statement. The others are inoperative,” and signs that the Obama team is trying to pull a “modified limited hangout.”
The most infuriating thing is that Obama likely did nothing wrong himself. In fact, he apparently managed to wade through the open sewers of Chicago Democratic politics and not get dirty. But like Nixon, his instinct to protect himself and issue denials that can’t survive scrutiny merely provokes people to ask “what is he trying to hide?”
In Nixon’s case, his paranoia eventually led to his downfall. Here’s hoping Obama manages to avoid that pitfall and eventually remembers that “honesty is the best policy.”