Friday, April 28, 2006

Obama's Political Calculation

Democrats keep searching for the face to lead their charge on ethics reform. They already had to dump Congressperson Jan "Tax Cheat" Schakowsky from a leadership position as they were firing the big guns at Republicans back in January. It was pretty embarassing having her issue those sanctimonious press releases, see Schakowsky on Ethics, and everyone noted the lenient treatment of her convicted husband.

Over the last few months, the congressional pay to play seems to have been equal opportunity, as more Democrat dirty linen airs. Congressman Bobby Rush comes to mind.

The Democrats have turned to their shining star, Sen. Barack Obama to carry their message. Tribune:
Obama is the Democrats' point man on his party's ethics proposals in Congress. In mid-January, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid asked Obama to be "the face of this reform package."

But the good Senator has issues of his own that have arisen from his support of the Democrat candidate for state treasurer, Alexi Giannoulious. Tribune editorial here. See earlier post Obama on the Spot too. Also Tribune story here.

And now the Tribune has suggested some lack of character and political calculation on the part of Sen. Obama in this last primary:
Imagine you're Barack Obama, with enough charisma and political capital to make kings or queens of mere mortal Democratic candidates. Imagine the March 21 Illinois primary is approaching. Whom should you choose to endorse? Who should receive your coveted blessing?
Forrest Claypool ran as a reformer of the Cook County Board in Obama's back yard.
Or you could endorse Alexi Giannoulias, a candidate for state treasurer. He was one of your financial backers in 2004.

Sure, it seems odd that you, a U.S. senator, would care more about a state treasurer's race than about who runs county government in your home county. But your endorsement might well win the race for Giannoulias.

Faced with just this political calculation, Obama's first crucial decision in home-state endorsements was to stick his neck out for Giannoulias, but not for Claypool.

Yes, Obama said some nice things about Claypool in the final hours of the campaign. But those comments came too late and were too cautiously worded to do Claypool any good.

Giannoulias? No one could have missed the ubiquitous TV ad where Obama not only endorsed him, but said he was "one of the most outstanding young men that I could ever hope to meet." Giannoulias won nomination as the Democratic candidate for treasurer, largely on the strength of Obama's endorsement.

Claypool? He narrowly lost.

Obama is free to endorse anyone he wishes or no one at all. But the Obama seal of approval means something. In this case it means Obama tied his tin can to what has become a very troubled candidacy.

Today Obama seems troubled only by his candidate's style. He sternly urged Giannoulias to hold "a very thorough press conference" about questionable bank loans. Whew.
This comports with Sen. McCain's public scolding of the freshman Senator.

But hey, George Clooney wants Obama for president, he's got another book coming out (it's called "The Audacity of Hope") and will probably have the presidential library built before you know it.

Being a clean, reform politician in Illinois is a difficult task. But unless you clean up your own backyard when you have the chance, voters around the country will not be impressed. Nor will some of us here.

One of the refreshing things about Obama was that he was not one of the family in the family business of politics in Chicago. But it looks like he just found a new family....with the same old business as usual.

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