Our Forfare Davis has written about the disappointment of some who expected President Obama and his team to keep their distance from the lobbying and influence peddling culture of Washington. I’m not sure why anyone expected different or better. Obama accommodated himself to Illinois politics and he brought Valerie Jarrett to the White House. Obama’s whole career has been one of talking about ethics, but never letting the politics of ethics get in the way of his ideological goals and personal ambitions. It wasn’t so tough going from a Chicago pol to the foremost resident of “This Town.”
Carl Scott once accurately described Obama’s role in Illinois politics as that of the “sweet -smelling flower.” He doesn’t get anywhere near breaking any laws himself and takes a high tone about ethics in politics and public service, but he directs his specific attacks on the opposition. He certainly doesn’t take on his state party’s establishment over ethics issues the way that Sarah Palin did in Alaska. The sweet-smelling flower enjoys the favor of the local machine without being asked to cross any legal lines. He classes up the place, makes some middle-class professionals feel a little more comfortable with their partisan affiliations (see, they aren’t all that bad) and he is careful to stay out of the way.
Given Obama’s history in Illinois, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Obama would deal with the Washington lobbying culture primarily by using it for his own purposes and otherwise leaving it alone. Maybe some people expected more because of how expansive Obama’s promises were during the campaign. Obama promised to put the negotiations over his proposed health care bill on national television and made specific promises about how he would restrict the employment of lobbyists in the White House. Those promises were not kept, but what is striking is the cynical audacity.
WhenBret Baier of Fox News asked Obama about the promise to put the health care negotiations on television, Obama had this look on his face like a grown man had asked him what brand of tennis shoes Santa Claus prefers. It was a promise that sounded good at the time and helped burnish his idealistic good government image, but it wasn’t a promise that he expected any wised up person would expect to be kept. But he couldn’t say that. Obama recovered and gave an answer that began with something like “What’s really important is...” You see, Obama had a public spiritedness that went beyond ethics and transparency (which had seemed pretty important during the campaign) and Obama cared enough for the public good to sacrifice his promises when they conflicted with his legislative agenda. Greater love hath no politician.
Obama is a good enough performer that he almost pulled it off, but even he could not entirely succeed in presenting his opportunism as idealism. If Obama had been a Republican, documentarians would be scooping up Academy Awards from the contradictions between Obama’s statements about lobbying in his first campaign and the reality of his administration, but he is a Democrat and the interview was mostly seen by people who were already inclined to vote against him.