Optics terrible on Obama’s judge appointment

Posted on March 4, 2010

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In his health care reform press conference yesterday, President Obama said he “didn’t know how the politics would play” on his call for reconciliation if Republicans didn’t play ball. It makes you wonder how anything plays in Peoria (as it were) with his recent appointment to the Court of Appeals.

His nominee, Scott M. Matheson, Jr., has unquestionably legitimate credentials, and his nomination has probably been in the works for a time. Yet his nomination was announced on the same day that President Obama hosted a group of wavering Democrats who had voted “no” on the previous House health care bill – including the future judge’s brother, Rep. Jim Matheson of Utah.

I don’t care how pure the motives of the President truly are, and it doesn’t matter if the two are somehow unrelated. The point is that it looks absolutely terrible to be nominate for federal judge the brother of a lawmaker whose vote you’re courting. It creates a massive appearance of impropriety and fosters a “pay-for-play” atmosphere that, while perhaps inaccurate, does nothing but reinforce the notion among an increasingly skeptical public that Congress plays by its own rules.

Surely someone in the administration recognized how bad this looks, right? I mean, there’s being tone-deaf and then there’s being politically retarded. Matheson is a fine candidate for the federal bench, but when the public is turning against your signature domestic proposal, it might be smart to put your best foot forward instead of giving a terrible impression.

There’s always the chance, though, that they don’t really care how it looks. They haven’t cared much for public opinion over the last several months, so why start now?

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Posted in: Politics