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December 16, 2008

The GOP’s 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 shouldn't admit.

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 Live’s 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 San Francisco.

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.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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