Eugene Robinson provides some needed cold water on President Elect Obama’s approach to political purity in the Washington Post today. In examining Obama’s approach to and spin on the Blagojevich story, he seems to view the cautious, neutral doublespeak as less of a breath of fresh air and more of the same old same old.
In handling questions about the arrest of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich — for allegedly trying to sell President-elect Barack Obama’s former Senate seat to the highest bidder — Obama has gone strictly by the book. His statements have been cautious and precise, careful not to get ahead of the facts or make declarations that might later have to be retracted.
The scandal involves Obama in only the most tangential way, as far as anyone knows, and actually seems to cast him in a favorable light. But the longer he leaves obvious questions unanswered, the longer the president-elect will have to talk about the seamier side of Illinois politics rather than initiatives such as saving the U.S. auto industry or revamping health care.
Obama has been busy telling people that he’s not been in contact with the indicted governor. When asked if his staff, including Rahm Emanuel, were involved, he gave a murky response, saying they, “had no involvement with any dealmaking,” and he was still “gathering facts” about possible contacts. I find it ironic that Obama has been criticizing Blagojevich for representing the “old school” of politics while so cautiously crafting his responses like any other politician.
If Obama really wants to represent a breath of fresh air, he and his team might consider taking some advice from the opposite side of the aisle, as suggested by Ed Morrissey.
They’ve already arrested Blagojevich. Emanuel could now say, “I helped Patrick Fitzgerald when I saw something wrong and worked with them to get him to make explicit statements,” rather than spend this week ducking reporters. The “sources within the investigation” would hardly want to make a cooperating witness look bad, either. Emanuel has been acting like someone advised him to keep quiet to keep from making incriminating public statements, and this may be the reason why.
I agree with Ed that the idea of Obama not being interested in who would replace him from his home state is preposterous. And there would be absolutely nothing wrong with Rahm or anyone from his staff checking in on the process or even airing the President Elect’s opinion as to who he might like to work with in the next Senate session. Provided there was no offer of pay for play or insinuation that Obama was somehow entitled to pick the replacement himself, he could stand up in public with no embarrassment and note what he had done.
One thing that has long bothered me about Obama while he was out on the campaign trail was the overly cautious way that he fielded questions. In one regard, this worked well for him, as nobody wants a hotheaded president flying off the handle at the drop of a hat. But Obama’s answers always seemed to come after a fraction of a beat too long of a pause, as if his mental filters were taking every answer, running them through a theoretical wire service and scanning the resulting headlines for acceptable tone. His responses thus far to the Blagojevich scandal are along the same lines. If there is nothing to hide, why play this game? Just toss out the old political playbook, as Robinson suggests, and cleanse the air. To do less is to leave us wondering exactly how much “change” we’re getting for our voting dollar and what else we might not be hearing.