Politics as Usual

    When I was a trial lawyer and needed to impress upon the jury the lack of credibility of a witness due to his inconsistent statements, I would often cite one of Mark Twain’s famous aphorisms: “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”  A truth teller has only one story to relate, period.

    Which brings us to the faintly amusing tale of Congressman Joe Sestak, Democrat of Pennsylvania, now running for Senate, who revealed in February that he had been “offered a job” by the White House in order to induce him to remain in the House of Representatives and not challenge Arlen Spector, since defeated in the PA primary. Sestak spurned the offer, but from February through May, refused to elaborate and referred all questions to the White House which claimed to be fully investigating what might well be a federal crime. In May, the White House revealed without explanation that its lawyers (!) had reviewed the events and found them to be perfectly legal, a most puzzling bit of news to those who are accustomed to having the legality of any matter determined by independent prosecutors and judges rather than by one’s own attorney.

     Late Friday before the Memorial Day weekend – a perfect time to bury news – the White House, and Sestak, related the story that was three months in the making: that Bill Clinton (!) had been asked by Rahm Emanuel to offer to Sestak an unpaid position on the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board if he chose not to run against Spector. It didn’t take even 30 minutes after this “three month investigation” ended to recognize that, as a sitting Congressman, Sestak was ineligible to serve in that “unpaid” capacity. Nor was it revealed how, had Sestak accepted the offer, he would have been able to support himself. Nor was it revealed – and most tellingly – why in Twain’s name did it take three months to relate the contents of a conversation that Sestak claimed took about 30 seconds ?

      It doesn’t take either a stupendous genius or a sinister conspiracy buff to comprehend that this tale, “remembered” over the course of 90 days, was a load of baloney sandwiched between nonsense and claptrap. The administration is desperately trying to (a) straddle the fence between blatant illegality and reprehensible impropriety, and (b) change the topic, and quickly. It came on the heels of a similar offer being made to Andrew Romanoff (D-Co) not to run for Senate against the incumbent there, and against the backdrop of the impending (this week) trial of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevitch for trying to sell Barack Obama’s old Senate seat not for a government sinecure and taxpayer money but for cold, hard cash in his own pocket. It’s the Chicago way, and if anything, Blagojevitch seems more upfront and honest about the process than all the others involved.

    Granted there is a fine line between an allusion and a specific offer, and Rod – not Rahm – was caught on tape, but everyone knows the game that is being played. The shamelessness with which the White House touts its own virtuous conduct and then flaunts the alleged imperfections of others is breathtaking. That itself is not new in politics, nor was their promise to be the most “transparent” administration ever – that is also politics as usual and let the buyer (voter) beware. What is new is the brazenness with which federal crimes are allegedly being committed, and the overt lack of interest on the part of the media and Congress in these scandals – usually natural and compelling fodder. Anyone who watches the White House daily briefing even occasionally must be struck by the number of times Press Secretary Robert Gibbs will duck tough questions by answering “I don’t know” or “I’ll get back to you” (he never does) or “read the statement” (this case) or “all that has been answered already” (this case, also). Where are the media ? And where is Congress ?

      Obama dominates the media because he dangles before them very limited access to himself. He engages reporters far less frequently than any president in modern times. He is very glib reading off a teleprompter, but he is mostly uneven, sometimes inarticulate, occasionally unintelligible and always exceptionally verbose when speaking extemporaneously. He parries questions he does not wish to answer, and when he does meet the media, he chooses for questions obscure journalists grateful for the exposure and does not allow follow-up questions to his non-answers. Case in point is this matter: he batted away a tough question about his involvement in the Sestak offer by saying an official statement will be forthcoming “shortly.” But he is the President – he can make the statement when he wishes to make it. Instead, he quickly went to the next question and the matter died. It is hard to escape the conclusion – in this and many other areas – that the White House press corps, predominantly liberals, gives him a pass, thereby neglecting their own jobs in the process.

     Every president skirts the law on occasion, but why are some persecuted and others celebrated ? For example, it is clear that Richard Nixon conducted his White House and violated laws in ways that were quite similar to John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson – special ops, enemies’ lists, using the IRS to harass opponents, etc. So why was Nixon made out to be the scoundrel and hounded from office ?

     Here’s the theory: when one party controls the White House and the Congress, the President will enjoy – more or less – a free ride. So, the Democrats controlled Congress during the Kennedy-Johnson administrations – smooth sailing. The Democrats controlled Congress during the Nixon era – near impeachment and then resignation. Democrats controlled Congress during the Carter years – he is unscathed. Reagan benefitted from Republican control of the Senate during his first six years in office – great. The Democrats took back the Senate in 1986 – the Iran-Contra investigation ensued.

     Fast forward almost a decade. The Republicans won control of the Congress in 1994 – four years later Bill Clinton was impeached. Republicans lost the House in 2006 – Bush had huge problems thereafter, with the constant threat of impeachment (never acted upon) hanging over his head. Obama, according to this, benefits from a Democrat-controlled Congress. No wonder he is cajoling people to run – or not run – based on his projections as to who can best guarantee a Democrat majority in Congress.  Now he can stonewall any investigation of this or any other matter; if Republicans take power, expect a wave of subpoenas and investigations. Sad, but that is politics.

    But how did Bill Clinton get involved in all this ? His relations with Obama have always been chilly. Now we know that he visited the White House for several hours the day before this story was hatched – what gives ? I don’t know. What I suspect is that Clinton, too, is fairly immune from subpoena, does not allow easy access to the media and therefore cannot be questioned by inquisitive reporters, and is cagey enough to extract a quid pro quo from the administration, if they successfully pull off this cover-up.

    What ? Speculation:  Joe Biden will be respectfully bounced from the ticket in 2012, and replaced by Hillary Clinton. You read it here first. Until then, and unless Blagojevitch ruffles too many feathers (including but not limited to forcing Rahm Emanuel to testify at his trial), this Sestak/Romanoff story is not likely to have much traction – until election time, when the voters might recall that the good thing about the truth is that you should only have one story to remember.

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One response to “Politics as Usual

  1. Reuven Ungar

    Interesting analysis, and on the money.
    On the Republican side- besides Sarah Palin, who else is out there? A comeback of Rudy G? Richard Nixon had many political lives….