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December 16, 2008
The GOPs Phony
Questions About Obama and Blagojevich
The arrest of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich marks one of the most
shameful and most entertaining political developments in recent
years. It's not every day that a comical figure with a comical hairstyle
is caught on government wiretaps admitting all sorts of things he
The governor, in a press conference the day before his arrest,
essentially dared anyone to tape his conversations, which it turned out
the government had been doing for some time, even comparing anyone who
would do so as being analogous to "Nixon and Watergate." The Nixon
comparison was apropos, just not the way Blago intended. The 37th
president, too, got in a whole lot of trouble by saying many
incriminating things while he knew he was on tape.
For the GOP, however, it wasn't enough that the Democratic governor of a
major state appears on the brink of resigning, just as those of two
other major states (New Jersey and New York) already had in the last few
years. They had to attempt to tie the disgraced governor to a certain
other, much more popular and ethical Illinois politician.
Attempts to tie Barack Obama and Blagojevich tend to come up short. Yes,
the two belong to the same party and hail from the same city and state,
and the governor was in position to appoint a replacement to the
president-elect's Senate seat. But that's about it.
The two men have never been particularly close, endorsing opponents
of one another in their elections for governor and senator in
2002 and 2004, respectively. Blagojevich, unlike various other Illinois
politicians, did not speak at the Democratic convention and did not
appear on the campaign trail. And indeed, Obama called for the
governor's resignation on the first full day of the scandal.
Yes, Obama staffers spoke with Blagojevich about the Senate seat which
is perfectly normal procedure when it comes to filling Senate vacancies.
What's the worst-case scenario? That Obama actively sought out bribes in
exchange for a preferred candidate receiving his Senate seat? There is
not one scintilla of evidence that this happened, and if it had, it
would be in terms of both illegality or stupidity about 180 degrees
away from everything Obama has done and stood for in his entire career,
Chicago roots notwithstanding.
But that hasn't stopped the RNC from running a nearly three-minute
Internet ad titled "Unanswered Questions," in which it "asks questions"
about what involvement Obama had in the controversy. Does it make any
definitive, damning charges? No, it's only "asking questions." Left out
is the part in which prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald stated unequivocally
that there is no evidence of any wrongdoing by the president-elect.
It reminds me of Saturday Night Lives joke about situation over
the weekend: "Prosecutors said Tuesday that there is no evidence that
Barack Obama was involved in the Blagojevich scandal. Or as Fox News
reported it, Is Barack Obama involved in the Blagojevich scandal?
Yes, the idea that Barack Obama is a "Chicago machine politician" was
one of those memes that circulated around the candidate throughout the
2008 campaign. Like "he's a radical," "he's a Muslim," or "he's the most
liberal senator," it failed to gain a significant amount of traction,
for two reasons: There's very little truth to it, and even the one
damning thing about the charge (the Tony Rezko land deal) was so
convoluted that few voters could even understand it.
A Google search of "Barack Obama" and "Illinois" and "cesspool of
corruption" brings up 750 results, including a New York Times
story right on top. It's the same guilt-by-association we saw throughout
the campaign. Obama is tangentially connected to Rod Blagojevich,
therefore he is Rod Blagojevich, just as he is Bill Ayers,
he is Louis Farrakhan and he is Jeremiah Wright.
This allows opponents of the president-elect to criticize him without
criticizing him. They're criticizing the "culture" he's from, and the
"people he was around," to score political points and if beliefs
and/or wrongdoing by such people has nothing whatsoever to do with Obama
himself, well, who cares? It's the "culture of Chicago."
Yes, the right, as we learned in the campaign, gets to insult whole
cities and states and regions, in a way the left does not. Would a
Democratic candidate ever bash "the culture of Texas," base whole
political campaigns on defeating "The Southern Way," or campaign on the
basis of coastal or big-city superiority? But that never stopped the GOP
from nakedly extolling small-town virtues while constantly bashing the
"values" of three of America's greatest cities, Chicago, Los Angeles and
Upon assuming office, Barack Obama will face a great number of
legitimate, real-world challenges, from the economy to foreign policy to
the environment. Don't expect his tangential connection to yet another
controversial figure to supersede any of that.
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