Friday, August 29, 2008

Obama is nominated. I'm conflicted.

It's not special like walking on the Moon special.

It's not even special like JFK getting elected was special for American Catholics.

I suppose -- continuing the Catholic analogy -- it's special like Al Smith getting nominated by the Democrats in 1928 was special.

That's still pretty darn special.

When I was born there were laws in place that kept people from getting served in a restaurant or staying in a hotel based solely on the color of their skin. In my lifetime -- not so extraordinarily long, whatever my kids may think -- we have gone from legal segregation to the nomination of an African-American for the presidency of the United States.

It doesn't matter whether you or I agree with all, some or even none of the planks in his platform: Obama's nomination is positive, tangible proof of healthy development toward the realization of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous dream, toward a time when a person is not judged by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character.


I hate to disturb the positive vibe, but I can't help it.

Obama is from Chicago.

Even that's a source of pride for me -- I tend to be a tad parochial, I realize, but I am proud when someone from Chicago does well.


Obama is a politician from Chicago.

Most of the regulars here are not from this area and I'm pretty sure you weren't treated to the same coverage that we were at home... our dysfunctional Democrats hugging it out in Denver... many of them the targets of federal corruption investigations, all of them nakedly ambitious for the next office, for themselves or their children.

Immediately before the convention began, one of Senator Obama's supposed political mentors, State Senate President Emil Jones, decided to withdraw from the November ballot... and install his son, Emil Jones III, in his place. The voters were not consulted; the primary was in February. The Republicans are running a man who did business under the name "Spanky the Clown." Seriously. They might have have roused themselves from their traditional torpor to nominate a real candidate, had they known they known they would be facing only "Threemil," as the younger Mr. Jones has been dubbed -- but the real purpose in keeping the succession under wraps until well after the primary was to prevent other Democrats from seeking the seat.

Before announcing the investiture of his son, Emil Jones' principal distinction this year was trying to engineer a pay raise for himself and his fellow legislators.

In our state, pay raises for politicians and judges are determined by an appointed commission. The recommendations of that commission become law unless both houses of the legislature reject it. The judges are included, officially, because most of them are elected officials and, practically, because that way the commissioners can say that their intent was to give the judges a raise and keep well-qualified legal eagles perched on the bench.

The House unanimously rejected the raise. But Jones wouldn't even let the measure be called up for a vote in the State Senate, even during special sessions called to consider amendatory vetoes, not until public pressure finally built to the point where a vote had to be called.

(Shed no tears for Emil Jones, though: The way the pension laws are worded, he'll get his pay raise next year after all -- he'll make more by leaving the legislature than by staying in. And he can take well over a half-million dollars out of his well-endowed campaign fund for personal use, now that his office-seeking days are over.)

Even the Illinois Democrats knew enough to try and keep our Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich under wraps as much as possible. Gov. Blagojevich, or "Public Official A" as he is known in several recent federal corruption indictments, will -- unless he, too, is indicted and removed from office prior to next January -- have the opportunity to appoint President Obama's successor in the U.S. Senate.

If Obama is elected.

Now: Not every Illinois Democrat is under active criminal investigation. But corruption is pervasive, especially in Chicago. Recently an Alderman pleaded guilty to shaking down real estate developers in her ward -- old hat, boring stuff for persons as jaded and cynical as we here have become... but there was a twist. Documents from the police department, concerning things like gang crime enforcement, documents intended for the Alderman, found their way into the hands of a local gang leader she was dating.

I know that Fox News and talk radio will try and make a big deal out of Obama's association with William Ayers. But Ayers had a multi-millionaire father, which surely didn't hurt his social standing. After he turned himself into the feds, after years "underground," Ayers found a place in academia and he's been credited with making real contributions to school reform in Chicago.

So Ayers is an unrepentant bomb-thrower. Seriously, what do you expect to find in senior faculty circles on college campuses these days?

Aging radicals and limousine liberals did not bring Obama to the heights where he stands this morning. Somehow Obama came to be accepted by them -- he taught law part-time at the University of Chicago -- but he moved beyond them. He also got accepted by the Chicago pols.

Did Obama transcend them, too? Or will some of them rise with him? Or, even more chilling, will one or more of them pull him down? Obama has associated with people who have been or will be indicted. Tony Rezko is merely the best known example nationally. But everyone who even dabbles in politics in Chicago is near corruption and may be tainted. Everyone.

Chicagoans instinctively look for connections everywhere, in everything. The national media is thrilled that Obama picked Joe Biden as his running mate because of his long Washington service and foreign policy experience. But Chicagoans note that Biden was long associated with a Chicago guy, Joseph Cari, Jr..

Cari, as Dave McKinney pointed out in an August 25, 2008 article in the Chicago Sun-Times, was Midwest field director in Biden's unsuccessful 1988 bid for the White House. Given this association, it was hardly surprising that Biden would reach out to Cari when he contemplated a 2008 bid. But, writes McKinney,
On the day Cari's name first surfaced in the federal probe of the state Teachers Retirement System, the former finance chairman for the Democratic National Committee and for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee was to have hosted a Biden fund-raiser in Chicago. Cari was a no-show at that July 25, 2005, event.
Cari admitted in 2005 "to taking part in an $850,000 kickback scheme that prosecutors say was part of a larger political fund-raising operation for Gov. Blagojevich overseen by [Tony] Rezko." He is still awaiting sentencing.

Biden, according to that same McKinney article, is returning any donations received from Cari and Obama's people have pointed out -- not unreasonably -- that Cari donated to a great many candidates.

But still.

Could Obama really walk through the mud of Chicago politics without getting his feet dirty?

Can anyone?

Today may not be the best day to think about all this. But I hope that serious questions are asked, and answered, between now and November.


Empress Bee (of the high sea) said...

very interesting stuff here curmy. i am personally scared of the guy. has nothing to do with his color, couldn't care less about that, but i keep hearing things that seem to set his pants on fire. or something. just sayin'.

smiles, bee

Sarge Charlie said...

I think John McCain said it best when he commended him on his win, Chicago should be proud.

John McCain just announced His VP and I am elated, just so you know. He has taken all the wind out of Obama's sail.

I will have to come back later an finish my comment.

Oswald said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sarge Charlie said...

I am back.

You folks in Chicago have a long time history of party bosses walking through the mud. Mr Obama walked through the same mud pits with so very bad people, "swiftboat", you ain't seen nothing yet.

Jeni said...

Hmmm. As I read this post, I had to smile -a bit of a cockeyed smile though -at the similarities in your fine state's legislature and in particular, the penchant for granting themselves a pay raise. So much like Pennsylvania's legislature when they tried that three years ago this past July. Eventually, the tumult from this pay raise became so intense that they repealed it and it was also a force that dethroned several high-ranking state reps and senators too in the process. Now, the state attorney general is in the middle of investigating a "bonusgate" scandal within the legislature along with corruption in the state casino system and who knows what else. So nice to know we here in the Keystone state are not alone in our issues with our legislators.

landgirl said...

So Obama has been in the public eye for how long now? Is it two years? And no one has found any scandal? If there were something you know the republicans would have used it. Why is it so hard to accept that somebody made his way because he is bright and ambitious and thinks that public service would still let him live a good life?

The Curmudgeon said...

Jeni -- it is comforting to see we're not alone here... I guess....

Sarge, Landgirl -- I don't want to see Obama 'swiftboated' -- if by 'swiftboated' one means playing fast and loose with the facts and making unfounded accusations based on tenuous associations.

On the other hand, Landgirl, I don't think the Republicans have even begun looking into the facts of Sen. Obama's meteoric rise... not really. The Republicans of Chicago, few and scattered, are far too docile to investigate whether Obama has gotten his feet dirty walking through the minefield of Chicago politics. Most of the pitiable Republican remnant have muddy shoes anyway. The local media has fawned over Sen. Obama and even the federal prosecutor's office here -- the one public agency that seems free from any corrupting taint -- revealed, after the Rezko trial, that it went out of its way not to mention Obama.

The highways and byways of Chicago politics are littered with the remains of persons who were bright and ambitious and think that public service might provide a way to live a good life. To get elected to anything, one must seek accommodation with the Democratic Party. I don't know that the true nature and extent of Obama's own accommodation is yet known.

That accounts for my discomfort.