Until recently, the post-election conventional wisdom had been that Barack Obama was off to a “great start” in his quest to unite the country, clean up its politics and prepare it for a presidency that would inevitably become the hinge of recent American history. Since then, however, events have intervened. In recent weeks, the Obama transition has been most notable for being marred by scandal, humbled by losses at the ballot box and conspicuous in its lack of leadership.
Most recent, of course, was the arrest of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat with strong ties to Obama and his team. By now, most of you know the story surrounding Blagojevich’s alleged crimes, the severity of which provoked U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald to state, “The breadth of corruption laid out in these charges is staggering.”
Most prominent is the charge that Blagojevich was conspiring to sell Obama’s Senate seat to the highest bidder. Though Fitzgerald said this week that there is no evidence that the president-elect knew about Blagojevich’s plan, there is a press report from November 5th, the day after the election, noting that the governor and Mr. Obama were supposed to meet that day. When asked about possible Senate replacements for Mr. Obama during a November 23rd interview on Fox News Chicago, David Axelrod, one of Mr. Obama’s closest advisors, said, “I know he’s [Obama] talked to the governor and there are a whole range of names, many of which have surfaced, and I think he has a fondness for a lot of them.”
Here’s the bottom line: While many media talking heads are working overtime to create the illusion of distance between Mr. Obama and his staff and anyone remotely connected to Gov. Blagojevich, the governor has been under investigation for three years. All the key actors here are Chicago politicians. And there’s a union boss involved too. To borrow a phrase, it requires the willing suspension of disbelief to suggest that the junior senator from Illinois; Axelrod, a long-time political insider from Illinois; Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, a former congressman from Illinois; and the governor of Illinois have not talked since the election.
This is how the “game” of politics is played by hardball Chicago liberals, union bosses and community organizers. Obama is a product of the Chicago political machine and from a state in which four of the last eight governors have gone to jail. Now there’s a major political scandal brewing around someone on whose behalf Obama once eagerly campaigned and endorsed as a man “who has delivered consistently on behalf of the people of Illinois.” As Jay Stewart, executive director of the Chicago Better Government Association, told ABC News some months ago, “We have a sick political culture, and that’s the environment Barack Obama came from.”
Others scandal-plagued Democrats have been making headlines lately. Rep. William Jefferson, caught with $90,000 in his freezer, was finally shown the door by voters. And Rep. Tim Mahoney of Florida, elected in the fallout of Foley scandal, was caught in multiple affairs.
Then there’s New York Rep. Charlie Rangel. The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee has been in hot water lately for failing to file his own taxes properly, among other violations. Even the liberal Washington Post and New York Times have demanded Rangel’s resignation. All this comes only three years after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called the Republican-led congress the “most corrupt in history,” and two years since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced, “This leadership team will create the most honest, most open, and most ethical Congress in history.”
Things haven’t looked good for Democrats on the election front either. First, Democrats’ dreams of a supermajority in the Senate were dashed when Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss easily won his Georgia runoff election.
Then the Republican Party scored two more victories when Republican John Fleming held onto Louisiana’s Fourth Congressional District and Anh “Joseph” Cao became the first Vietnamese-American elected to Congress by defeating William Jefferson to capture the New Orleans-based Second Congressional District. The Obama-led Democratic Party is now 0-3 in “post season” elections.
Things aren’t much better for Obama on the policy front. Obama’s Democratic allies are getting impatient with him, demanding he put more specifics on the table to address growing economic anxieties. Rep. Barney Frank, chairman of the House Banking Committee, complained recently that Obama is “going to have to be more assertive than he’s been.” Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT), chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, reportedly said, “The Obama team has to step up. In the minds of the people, this is the Obama administration. I don’t think we can wait until January 20.”
And Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) is demanding President-elect Obama intervene in the auto bailout talks, saying, “It would be very helpful if the president-elect would become more involved in resolving the issue over the source of the funds. I want him to offer his assistance.” This week, Obama had more to say about the economy. But his most memorable line wasn’t very reassuring. “The economy is going to get worse,” Obama told us, “before it gets better.”
Imagine if the situation were reversed. Had John McCain won and Republicans subsequently became embroiled in a corruption crisis, lost three races in a row and began calling out the president-elect about a lack of leadership, there’s no doubt that the liberal media would be writing the McCain Administration’s obituary and trumpeting these elections as clear evidence of “buyers’ remorse.”
I don’t want to overstate my case. The Democrats are still in the driver’s seat, and Republicans still have a lot of work to do to regain the trust of voters. But Obama should think twice if he believes he has a mandate to shift the nation dramatically to the Left.