Regardless of what one might think of Barack Obama, his career, or his politics, it's hard not to reach the conclusion that the man's got the luck of the devil. That... or he long-ago sold his soul to him.
Considering the cauldron of corruption that is Chicago Machine Politics, we are still left wanting for a viable explanation by the media, the Obama campaign, or the man's self-absorbed books- how he arose from such an unaccomplished nothing to the President-elect of the United States in just a few, short years... while widely assumed to be pure as the driven snow.
And, at a time when the whole nation is focused on the political smoke-plume eminating from Illinois, as the ongoing Blagojevich drama continuing to unfold, it is amazing just how Obama manages to stay above it all, claiming to barely know him... especially when you consider that he was a consultant to Blago's 2002 campaign for governor, as was Rahm Emanuel. He also campaigned for him enthusiastically, and contrary to his denials in the wake of the arrest, appears to have spoken to him directly regarding his about-to-be vacant US Senate seat on November 5th... that according to three seperate news outlets, as well as David Axelrod's previous statement on Fox News (since retracted, of course).
Even more amazing is the fact that both Obama's and Blago's political godfather, Tony Rezko, has already been found guilty in 16 of 24 counts of influence peddling in June 2008, convicted of wire and mail fraud, money laundering and aiding and abetting bribery, and even helped Obama buy his South Side mansion in an ethically-dubious transaction, all with Blago's wife Patti as agent... but somehow Obama has remained unscathed there, too.
One of the common side-effects of astounding success is an assumption that it will somehow just keep coming, and that this seamless path to glory must be destiny. This in-turn leads to a belief in one's own myth of invinciblity, and a distorted sense of purpose. A feeling that you can't do any wrong is of course very dangerous, as it warps balanced and critical analysis of one's thoughts and actions. It may be that Mr Obama is truly astounded himself, in that he didn't have more resistance along the way from the press and electorate regarding his past dealings and/or lack of experience and accomplishment... and has now drawn the conclusion that he can walk on water. The better it all feels, the easier it is to get lost in the hype.
Logically, when you've been so blessed, why push it, though? In Obama's cabinet nominations, one can begin to sense the recklessness of a gambler's high, as he appears to be rolling-the-dice, and with not only some ethical risks, but also in the selection of a largely inexperienced homeland security team, when contrary to complacent public opinion, the Al Qaida threat is as real as ever. Obama is almost daring trouble to come his way, particularly on the home-front. Maybe he feels such an electoral mandate affords him the flexibility to shape a cabinet to fufill unwritten quotas of the sort that have been so benefitial to him, and/or repay political debts. Or perhaps Obama is simply in over-his-head after advancing so far, so fast... but whatever the reason, a number of these choices are now raising some eyebrows, and across the political spectrum.
Barack Obama enjoys the political capital that comes with the fact that many Americans feel a need to "make this one work" for a number of reasons, and the press is heavily invested in his success too. The MSM are unlikely to start any effective due-dilligence now, unless forced to by circumstances... what's the point? Might as well hope for the best, their chips are already piled-high on blue. And Obama seems to know he owns the MSM, now even treating them with contempt- telling journalists to "not waste their question" in press conferences, scolding them when he feels they've "got enough pictures", or even telling them to "get back on the bus." Maybe after being surrounded by adoring crowds and reporters everytime he wows the plebes with his "soaring" rhetoric, he is actually starting to believe he's Elvis.
While many have noted some safe, seemingly moderate cabinet choices that soothed the right as much as they irked the left, such as Gates at Defense, and to a degree the Clinton package-deal at State, these serve a purpose to Obama, to keep world events at bay so Barack can focus on his highest priority... a radical domestic transformation. However, a number of the other choices with ethical baggage, and/or unqualified candidates in charge of the War on Terror are a bit harder to understand. With the well-disciplined Team Obama, there is likely and explanation for each of these, rather than simply lack of vetting.
With the already failed Commerce Secretary nominee Bill Richardson, Obama was always looking for trouble. Although Richardson was sometimes vicous in primaries, it appears the President-elect attempted to bring him onboard to fill a high-profile position with a Hispanic, while also co-opting a potential rival for the 2011 primaries... when his poll numbers might well be in the toilet. Since, Richardson withdrew himself from consideration for the post, stating that the ongoing grand jury investigation of his "pay-for-play" scandal would delay the confirmation process, the Obama campaign itself has now been reported by ABC News as having recieved more than $30,000 from California financier David Rubin, the same very same donor being investigated along with Richardson.
Damage-control spin from the Obama camp has claimed that they "pressed" Richardson for more info on the case during their vetting process... but why nominate him if you felt you weren't getting a sufficiently thorough explanation? Perhaps the overriding consideration was a "pressing' need to take him off the market, or fufill a previously-made political deal. It indeed seems as though Obama made an offer to other rivals as they faded away in the primaries, and to also keep them from challenging him in 2012... Edwards sure lined up behind Obama resolutely, and seemed destined for a cabinet position, until his own Clinton-esque bimbo eruption.
Obama's choice for attorney general Eric Holder, who served as former deputy attorney general in the Clinton Administration, was instrumental in the 2001 pardon of international fugitive and Clinton supporter Marc Rich... where it appears he took action to aid his own career, rather than any consideration of justice. More recently, before Holder was Obama's nominee for attorney general, he was Gov. Blagojevich's pick to sort out a mess involving Illinois' long-dormant casino license. Blagojevich and Holder appeared together at a March 24, 2004, news conference to announce Holder's role as "special investigator to the Illinois Gaming Board"- a post that was to pay Holder and his Washington, D.C. law firm up to $300,000, but was never actually executed. Holder, however, omitted this event from his 47-page response to a Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire-- an "oversight" that he said he "plans to correct"... but only after a Chicago Sun-Times inquiry uncovered this, which was right in the middle of the Blagojevich controversy. Perhaps he just forgot about such an obviously relevant event to his confirmation process?
Labor secretary nominee Hilda Solis doesn't have any obvious ethics issues. Initially, she was a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton; when that campaign fell short, Obama aggressively sought her support in the politically calculating way that is his M.O., as part of strengthening to his appeal to Hispanic voters. However, it seems that Solis has been involved in some far-left, and even treasonous, causes that would be disturbing to most Americans. Not only is Solis heavily biased towards labor unions, her sometimes radical views and associations are similar to the kinds of things that seem to surround Mr Obama, but are always dismissed by the media. She has some past association with, and is enthusiastically supported by, the Hispanic advocacy group "La Raza", who's charter supports a Hispanic re-conquest of the SE United States, among other things- and who's blatantly racist motto is "For our race, everything... for the others, nothing".
Even though the Obama camp puts concerted efforts into keeping a lid on him, Joe Biden presents an ongoing risk to the new administration. The unsettling announcement of his pending trip to voliatile SE Asia might have bookmakers placing odds on a nuclear war breaking-out between Pakistan and India somewhere in the vicinity of 50/50. Luckily for Obama, the press' covering for his gaffes is extended to Joey Plugs, too- and he was never called on such statements during the campaign as "FDR went on television in 1929 to discuss the depression". Biden was the first surprising choice for "Team Change"-an apparent deal with the DNC establishment to put an old guard monitor on the Obama team to slow any hard veer to the left reflected in some Obama rhetoric. Only time will tell if the press will continue to bury his outrageous statements deep inside the newspaper, such as last week's statement that we are "at war" with our own economy.
Obama's chief-of-staff Rahm Emanuel is awfully quiet lately... where is the swagger? And, where is Rahm? The name "Rahm (רם)" means high, or lofty in Hebrew... but his public profile is anything but, since the Blago case erupted.
On the surface, Emanuel appears to be another Chicago Obama loyalist, but the pugnacious partisan is actually more of a political survivor/opportunist... and it was Bill Clinton that first put him on the national stage. Emanuel remained close to Bill since leaving the White House, but his "loyalties" came into conflict when home-state senator Barack Obama expressed interest in the race. Playing both sides of the fence skillfully, Emanuel remained neutral in the race until the day after the final 2008 primary contests... when he "endorsed" the eventual winner Obama.
Although he is close to Obama, and the most powerful cabinet member as Chief-of-Staff, Emanuel has perhaps the most issues from the past that could come back on him, and thus the new administration. Like Obama, he arose from the Chicago Machine, one of the most graft-embedded in the country- where was born the legend of his fundraising abilities. He was senior advisor and chief fundraiser for Richard M. Daley's victorious campaign for Mayor of Chicago in 1989. Emanuel then became a senior advisor to Clinton at the White House from 1993 to 1998. Emanuel was also a leading strategist in the debacle of the failed Hillarycare initiative.
He was subsequently named to the BOD of Freddie Mac by Clinton in 2000. During the time DNC fundraising expert Emanuel spent on the board, the lending agency was plagued with scandals involving campaign contributions and accounting irregularities. Emanuel resigned from the board in 2001 when he ran for congress. Having a Democratic fundraising whiz on the Board of the FHLMC when they where dishing-out questionable campaign funds to politicians is perhaps something that should be looked into further, now that the agency was instrumental in bringing down the US economy, due to misguided decisions by those very same politicians... who have, naturally, as is fashionable and convenient, blamed it all on George Bush.
In 2002 Emanuel then pursued the U.S. House seat previously held by Rod Blagojevich, who successfully ran for Governor of Illinois, with both Rahm and Barack as senior campaign advisors. Contrary to their current treatment of Blago like a leper they've never met, in a 2008 interview in the New York Times Emanuel bragged that he and Obama "participated in a small group that met weekly when Rod was running for governor. We basically laid out the general election, Barack and I, and these two."
Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass reported he actually had a confrontation with Emanuel over Kass’s speculation that Emanuel won his 2002 election because a convicted Chicago water dept. boss sent-in employees to work for Emanuel. He had also speculated that Mayor Richard Daley’s “underlings”, who were sentenced to federal prison for organizing “patronage armies”, helped Emanuel. The Chicago Machine doesn't like having their techniques exposed, of course.
And he seems like a loose cannon if there ever was one. Rahm Emanuel likes to be seen as a rough, tough "screw you" type of operator. But, with the unwelcome attention recently brought by the Blagojevich case, he is on the other end of the hose this time... and does not handle the pressure well. Questions remain over his contacts with Blagojevich and his staff. And his silence and almost complete dissappearance from the public eye raises a number of questions regarding his role in the affair, as does his repeated testiness with the press in the days following Blago's arrest... until Obama stashed him away.
Some are now questioning whether Emanuel will even make it to the White House, with the Blago affair posing the most obvious concern. It is abundantly clear that someone from Team Obama talked to Blago's staffers, relaying the information that Obama would (initially) only provide appreciation in exchange for Valerie Jarrett's ("candidate #1") appointment to the Senate seat, as stated on the FBI tapes. Somehow Blago's people were later informed that Obama had upped his offer, and "could provide seats on company boards" that would pay up to $150K/yr. for Patti Blagojevich, and that Obama had to "suck it up for a couple years", which sounds a lot like temporarily refraining from previous commonplace bribing and racketeering. And it is obvious Blago's staff didn't obtain all this information from a little bird.
It seems that Rahm Emanuel was brought-on for his aggressive bad-cop advocacy that allows Obama to stay above the fray, as well as his management disclipline and fundraising skills that made his name in DNC circles... could he also have skeletons related to the large amount of questionable funds that found their way to the Obama campaign?
Longtime Obama ally Valerie Jarret, a soft-spoken, steely willed Chicago powerbroker, has also been called the "other side of Obama's brain". Like Emanuel, she began her political ascension with Chicago Mayor Richard M Daley. As his Chief of Staff in 1991, she hired Michelle Robinson, then engaged to Barack Obama, away from a private law firm. Daley, while a successful mayor serving for 19 yrs now, is also controversial, as the most powerful cog in a Chicago Machine that's known for it's corruption. Typical was the "Hired Truck Program" involved hiring private trucks to do city work. The Chicago Sun-Times revealed that some participating companies were being paid for doing little or no work, had mob connections, or were tied to city employees. Other truck owners had also paid bribes to get into the program. This scandal eventually sparked a Federal investigation into hiring practices at Chicago City Hall, with Robert Sorich, Mayor Daley's former patronage chief, convicted on two counts of mail fraud for rigging city jobs and promotions.
And Jarret is another one who, like Obama, had dealt with convicted felon Tony Rezko in questionable government-subsidized public housing projects... which then fell apart, while Rezko ran off with the money. According to Judicial Watch, she served as a board member for several organizations that provided funding and support for Chicago housing projects operated by real estate developers and Obama financial backers Rezko and Allison Davis. (Davis is also Obama's former boss.) Jarrett was a member of the BOD for the Woodlawn Preservation and Investment Corporation along with several Davis and Rezko associates, as well as the Fund for Community Redevelopment and Revitalization, an organization that worked with Rezko and Davis. Housing projects operated by Davis and Rezko have been substandard and beset with code violations. The Chicago Sun Times reported that one Rezko-managed housing project was "riddled with problems -- including squalid living conditions...lack of heat, squatters and drug dealers."
When queried, Jarrett did nothing to correct these problems- except stonewall queries. In addition, as CEO of The Habitat Company, she also managed a controversial housing project located in Obama’s district called Grove Parc Plaza, which according to the Boston Globe was considered “uninhabitable by unfixed problems, such as collapsed roofs and fire damage. In 2006, federal inspectors graded the condition of the complex an 11 on a 100-point scale... a score so bad the buildings now face demolition.
Obama's selection of Jarret for his Senior White House Advisor shows how little he really cares about the poor he purports to fight for... with both of these Chicago Machine politicians, it is really more about blind ambition and an elite class that pretends publicly to care about the poor, but in reality only uses them for their own monetary advancement... and to gain enormous political power.
So, while ethics issues could dog a number of Obama's nominees, and choices such as Biden and Hillary are know to be gaffe-prone, the most violatiaile and risky weaknesses in Obama's team have to do with national security, and more specifically the fight against Al Qaida. He wisely kept Robert Gates as a custodian to tend to Afghanistan and the now-victorious Iraq drawdown, areas in which Obama has little stake or interest, now that he used his misguided opposition to The Surge to get himself elected.
Obama has unexplicably appointed an inexperienced trio to the vanguard positions in the fight against terrorism, with Panetta, Clinton, and Napolitano. What might our enemies think of us? Naive, unprincipled, and weak? If so, they're right about half of the electorate, anyway. It is frightening to think of just what will need to happen for many to appreciate what was accomplished by the Bush Administration's hawkish approach to terrorism. He may not have caught Bin Laden, but at least it kept the enemy back on their heels, and the homeland safe from attack... some things you never appreciate until they're gone.
While the choice of Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State, which of course includes Bill and his international connections to some degree, makes sense as a package deal- Hillary alone is hard to explain, outside of a political bargain struck at the Democratic Convention, along with Obama's neutralizing of a potential rival in a cynical, win-win deal. Hillary, also an opportunist of the highest caliber, has no foreign policy experience whatsoever... unless you count her fiction about "coming under fire" in Bosnia. She clearly lacks basic diplomatic skills, is known for a violent temper, use of foul language when angry, and for berating underlings when she "loses it". Other presidents-elect with no diplomatic experience have brought in a Secretary of State with the requisite background- but Obama doesn’t feel the need for such abilities and qualifications in the nation's top diplomat, for some reason. And what happened to honesty and integrity as selection criteria?
As for other ethics issues, recall Hillary's opposition in the Senate to the Dubai Ports deal- which was instrumental in forcing this company from the United Arab Emirates out of the contract. Subsequently, Bill Clinton was hired and paid millions of dollars by the UAE to clean up the resulting PR debacle... which was much his own wife's creation. No conflict of interest? How about the additional millions Bill has received in donations to his foundation and consulting fees from Kuwait, Morocco, Kazakhstan, et. al.? Any controversial decision regarding these states will surely be examined throught the lense of Bill Clinton's associations with them.
Janet Napolitano as Secretary of Homeland Security was another puzzling choice, and an additional indicator of the complete disconnect between Obama's zeitgeist and the reality of the terrorist threat. This show of weakeness is an invitation to attack in and of itself, as all he had to do to give these medieval savages pause was appoint, say, a Giuliani... but instead, we get this, in the midst of two overseas wars and a worldwide struggle with Islamic extremists. Her background suggests a priority of fighting illegal immigration, rather than homeland defense.
Now, Obama nominates former Clinton Chief-of-Staff Leon Panetta to manage the Central Intelligence Agency. While apparently honorable, he is also a man with no background to qualify him for a job where an experienced and insightful mind is needed to keep our country safe... and where one can find themselves in a lot of hot water eminating from the smallest misjudgement or oversight.
It appears that the incoming president picked Panetta to avoid the selection of anyone connected to, or supportive of, the Bush administration's counterterrorism policies. That stance essentially eliminated nearly every experienced candidate for the CIA job, including Obama's own intelligence adviser John Brennan.
Is this an example of Obama taking a firm ideological stand, regardless of the practical consequences... or has he become sensitive to the criticisms from the left, after they expressed their dissapointment in his retaining Robert Gates? Regardless of the motivation for the choice, the appointment of a man with no law enforcement or intelligence service to the vital CIA post in the midst of a battle with extremist terrorism has brought questions from a number of lawmakers, including top Democrats.
Is Obama a gambler? He doesn't personally appear to be, and he seemed indeed too cautious to many of his supporters, who expected selections with perhaps a bit more intellectual fresh air to fufull his "Change" mantra... instead of a number of Clinton Administration retreads. But from a security and/or ethics standpoint, there are substantial risks with many of these nominees, and why these risks were taken is difficult to understand. Obama is a disciplined, strategically-clever politician, but also a shameless opportunist... so one can only conclude that cold political calculus and repayment of the political debts that got him elected have trumped ethics and national security concerns in these selections. Anyone who expected Obama to make the most qualified, best possible choices for the country simply haven't noticed how he got this far in the first place. There also seems to be a mob-style loyalty requirement for Obama's inner circle, with almost all of them coming out of the Chicago machine that propelled Obama's career so far, so fast... and/or the now-allied Clintonites.
After all, in Chicago, getting elected and making back-room political deals is just how it works, and all Obama really knows... and where dealing with potential time bombs like Tony Rezko and Rod Blagojevich go with the territory. After that, a Bill Richardson is really nothing to worry about. You can tell by Obama's reaction to crisis like the Blago indictment that he expects such eruptions, is prepared for them, and has a formula for dealing with them systematically: First, deny any knowledge of wrongdoing, create distance immediately from the accused, align himself with the public ("I, too, am appalled"... "it's a sad day for Illinois", etc.), then stonewall the press if they don't gracefully parrot his spotty version of events, including arrogant contol-freakery in to keep journalists in their place.
The irony here is that the man presented to Americans as an agent of "Change", and who seemed to many to be the most independent -and least beholden to Beltway interests and other power players- is clearly anything but his own man. Obama not only lacks the stature to control the powerful congressional Democrats such as Pelosi and Reid, but it's become abundantly clear to all that he owes more favors than any president in recent memory... and many of these positions where sold a long time ago, along his path to the White House.
Recent rumor has it that Barack isn't doing too well with his long-running plans to quit smoking... seems like with the Blago and Richardson dramas, the Nicorette gum wasn't quite cutting it anymore, even while vacationing in Paradise.
The Blagojevich and Richardson scandals are far from over... and a betting man would expect more of the same. After all, Barack Obama still isn't even President yet.