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Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2008

Obama Will Not Escape Unscathed

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Those among us who are sure that Barack Obama has descended from Heaven to cool the planet, calm the seas, and bring peace on earth are getting a full dose of reality from the Rod Blagojevich scandal. Obama, in reality, has crawled and clawed his way up from the sewer of corruption and graft that is the Chicago political machine.

No one has stated definitively that Mr. Obama played any part in the attempted sale of his senate seat. In fact, the transcripts of Mr. Blagojevich's conversations, in which he repeatedly refers to Mr. Obama using language unfit for prime time would seem to imply the opposite- that Mr. Obama would have been a thorn in Mr. Blagojevich's side by offering the governor nothing beyond "appreciation" for appointing Mr. Obama's chosen candidate to his vacant senate seat.

No reasonable person, no matter how partisan, could hope for our president-elect, the first African-American to be elected to the highest office in the land, to be sullied by this scandal. Unfortunately, this scandal brings the conversation back, once again, to the political pitfalls of questionable associations. Jeremiah Wright, Tony Rezko, William Ayers- these were the questionable associations that American conservatives chose to focus on during the election. With the exception of Rezko, who is almost certainly involved to some degree in the Blagojevich scandal, these were the wrong associations to dwell (endlessly) on.

The simple fact is that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to rise to the top of the Chicago political machine without sullying one's self to some degree. True, Mr. Obama seemed to sidestep the machine's gears, rather than become enmeshed in or chewed up by them. He did not rise through the ward-and-precinct politics that so many of Chicago's top pols choose as their path to the political pinnacle. However, there is no question that Rahm Emanuel (won Blagojevich's senate seat after the gubernatorial election), Tony Rezko (formerly one of Mr. Blagojevich's closest confidants, and likely the indicted governor's most painful Achilles heel), and Mr. Blagojevich (advised by Mr. Obama in his 2006 run for the governor's mansion) are all closely connected to the president-elect, and have been for years. Is it possible for one to associate with people of this caliber and not come away tarnished?

When asked about communications between his staffers and Blagojevich's office, Mr. Obama maintained that there had been none. Why would Mr. Obama assume that no one from his staff had spoken with the governor's office about filling a senate seat about to vacated by the president-elect? We are told (and most agree) that it is perfectly natural for Mr. Emanuel or another Obama confidant to speak with the governor's office regarding Mr. Blagojevich's appointment to the seat. So why was Mr. Obama's immediate reaction so evasive? Perhaps that is a tactic he learned in his trip through, around, or over the Chicago political machine.

Wouldn't a true straight-arrow reformer have said something like this:

"I assume that my staff has spoken with Governor Blagojevich about his appointment to my senate seat. However, there has not been, and will not be, any pay-for-play with regard to this appointment. It's the governor's job- we're just advisors in this case. The governor can expect my appreciation if he picks one of my recommendations, and my continuing respect for his office if picks another qualified candidate."

When your every moment is consumed with thoughts of personal advancement, it must become difficult to determine when the truth might just be the best option.