Obama and the politics of corruption

Posted on December 9, 2008



Due to his near-shocking abuse of power, Illinois Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich has been arrested for allegedly trying to sell Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat to the highest bidder. Let that sink in for a few minutes, and ponder the new heights to which corruption has spread. The Governor of a highly populated state sought to, in essence,  auction off for personal gain a seat in the upper House of the United States Legislature. The sheer sleaziness and the level of the breach of public trust cannot be overstated. US District Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald termed the Governor’s actions a “corruption crime spree,” the once-powerful and now-bankrupt Tribune Corp. is also involved, and Michael Sherer from TIME suggests an independent counsel may be needed.

Initial indications are that Obama wouldn’t play along, but his assertion that he has had “no contact with the Governor’s office” regarding his Senate replacement strikes me as less than believable. One would think the President-Elect would have at least offered a few opinions on who would be taking his seat, a point Obama’s campaign manager David Axelrod reinforced when he noted Obama had “talked to the governor and there are a whole range of names, many of which have surfaced, and I think he has a fondness for a lot of them.” Despite that, there’s thankfully nothing as yet to link Obama directly to this mess.

That may not be true of his aides or advisors. The criminal complaint lists several unnamed Washington advisors, and Fitzgerald has signalled the investigation is ongoing. Obama aides and Obama team documents will be subpoenaed, as well they should. This isn’t some minor shenanigan at the county level – this represents the attempted subversion of public trust at the highest levels of legislative power. And the fact that Obama wouldn’t go along, while commendable, also seems to indicate that someone on his team knew what was going on.

We can look at this in an even broader context. Obama tried to sell himself as a new kind of politician, some sort of post-modern candidate above the din of gutter politics. But to make that assertion would be to deny the murky cesspool of Illinois Democratic machine politics through which Obama worked through not as an outsider, but as a very product of its backroom deals and machinations, a face of which we see today in the utter malfeasance of Gov. Blagojevich, and which was hinted at through the trial of Tony Rezko.

This is why associations matter. Obama himself can be clean as a whistle, but if he chooses to surround himself with people of questionable motives and character – folks like Blagojevich (who enlisted his help as a campaign advisor during his ’02 campaign), Rezko, Jeremiah Wright, Bill Ayers – then at the very least his judgment must be called into question. Without a doubt, more time is needed to ascertain the extent of the scheme – but already some of the luster of Obama is already starting to wear off.

Posted in: News, Politics