Especially in the wake of recent scandals emerging from Jack Abramoff, Duke Cunningham, and William Jefferson, to name just a few, Americans have become tragically accustomed to a certain background level of sleaze from the average politician.
But Barack Obama is hardly an average politician; his youth, Washington outsider status, and stirring rhetoric have defined his candidacy as being dedicated to hope, moral consciousness, and a shift away from beltway politics as usual. There are certainly many upsides to these associations, but a notable downside is that some commentators are surprised and disappointed when he stoops to politics as usual. Thus he attracts coverage and criticism for actions that likely wouldn’t raise eyebrows coming from one of the other candidates.
That being said, Obama cannot expect to benefit from his unique reputation without attracting unique scrutiny. Several weeks ago, Reality Check covered Obama’s controversial ties to alleged slumlord Tony Rezko. A recent article in the Chicago Tribune further questions Obama’s celebrated commitment to ending corruption and ensuring open government:
‘Obama’s record of local endorsements — one measure of how he has used his nascent political clout — has drawn criticism from those who say it reflects his deference to Chicago’s established political order and runs counter to his public calls for clean government.
In the 2006 Democratic primary, for example, Obama endorsed first-time candidate Alexi Giannoulias for state treasurer despite reports about loans Giannoulias’ family-owned Broadway Bank made to crime figures. Records show Giannoulias and his family had given more than $10,000 to Obama’s campaign, which banked at Broadway.
Obama endorsed former Ald. Dorothy Tillman (3rd), calling her “a very early supporter of my campaign.” Tillman was then under fire for her stewardship of the scandal-plagued Harold Washington Cultural Center, where contracts benefited members of her family.
Obama rejected the notion that such endorsements conflict with his promotion of ethics reform in government.
“I have been very proud of my track record as a state legislator and as a U.S. senator in terms of maintaining highly ethical behavior throughout my public life,” he said in a recent interview. “Dorothy Tillman and Alexi Giannoulias were strong supporters of mine. There were no allegations that they had done anything illegal. And it was not a conflict for me to show my support for them.” […]
Such moves detract from Obama’s political independence, according to observers such as James Shapiro, state chairman for the Independent Voters of Illinois-Independent Precinct Organization.
“I don’t think these are principled endorsements, but rather are of political expedience,” he said. “It may be understandable, but it’s not justifiable.”
The IVI-IPO is not an attack organization spearheaded by Republicans or rival Democratic candidates, but rather an advocate for “the progressive good government movement” in Illinois that has existed for over sixty years. As Obama is widely considered one of the more progressive candidates in the race to November ’08, their criticism cannot easily be dismissed as merely a political attack.
It’s unclear how big an effect Obama’s political manueverings will (or should) have on his reputation and his candidacy, but Reality Check will certainly continue to follow each major candidate’s consistency on this and other issues.