Here We Go

by digby

The minute I heard about Fitzgerald's press conference, I knew this would follow shortly: Questions Arise About the Obama/Blagojevich Relationship
That's Jake Tapper, not making any charges but bringing up all kinds of cross currents in Illinois politics to suggest that there are "questions." And all over TV they are talking about "corrupt Chicago politics," which is being splashed onto Obama.

It's natural that Obama and many of his staff have crossed paths with the players in this scandal. But according to Lynn Sweet of the Tribune Sun-Times, who has followed Obama for some time and is not a sycophant, says the campaign put a mile between itself and Blagojevich, not even allowing him to speak at the Democratic convention. They are not close.

I don't know if this will go anywhere. At this point, I think there's just too much news and too many problems for a phony scandal to have any legs. But, as I wrote almost a year ago, these Chicago shennanigans have elements of a perfect right wing smear by association if they have the energy to launch one and the press decides it's sexy enough:

The NY Times treated this story [Whitewater] like it was The Pentagon Papers. They legitimized its obfuscatory style of reporting and the confusion that resulted led to the naming of an independent counsel and finally to the partisan impeachment of a popular and successful president. Yet, it was obvious to observers that they were being led around by a cabal of rightwing hit men from very early on. They simply refused to see the story for what it was and instead validated their erroneous reporting with a continuous narrative stream of unproven implications that fed the toxic political environment --- and that fed them in return.

I know this is all boring, arcane history now, but it's important to note that we are seeing similar stuff happening already with respect to various "deals" that are being reported in the press about Harry Reid and John Edwards. So far they are thin, nonsensical "exposes" written by one man, John Soloman, formerly of the AP and now of the Washington Post. Soloman is known to be a lazy reporter who happily takes "tips" from the wingnut noise machine and faithfully regurgitates them. He holds a very important position at the paper that was second only to the Times in its eagerness to swallow Ken Starr's spin whole.

We are also seeing some similar reporting begin to emerge on Obama, much of it generated by hometown political rivals, just as we saw in the Clinton years. Today the LA Times implies that Obama is exaggerating his activist past. A couple of weeks ago we saw a truly egregiously misleading report on a deal he made to buy some land from a supporter.

These are patented Whitewater-style "smell test" stories. They are based on complicated details that make the casual reader's eyes glaze over and about which the subject has to issue long confusing explanations in return. They feature colorful and unsavory political characters in some way. They often happened in the past and they tend to be written in such a way as to say that even if they aren't illegal they "look bad." The underlying theme is hypocrisy because the subjects are portrayed as making a dishonest buck while pretending to represent the average working man. Oh, and they always feature a Democrat. Republicans are not subject to such scrutiny because a craven, opportunistic Republican isn't "news." (Neat trick huh?)

No single story will bring down a candidate because they have no substance to them. It's the combined effect they are looking for to build a sense overall sleaziness. "Where there's smoke there's fire" right?

The major media has never copped to their role in the tabloid sideshow that politics in the 90's became. They have never copped to their part in elevating Bush to the status of demigod and running beside him like a bunch of eunuchs waving palm fronds during the lead-up to the war. Even today we see them pooh-poohing the significance of a federal trial that exposes them for whores to Republican power.

As I said, I don't know if this environment is conducive to phony scandal. There's just so much going on. But if it is, this is one of the ways they do it. Guilt by association, drip-drip-drip of vague allegations and ongoing "questions." The key to really hammering it home, of course, would be for the Republicans to win back a majority in the congress in 2010, which I think is unlikely. The Republicans were growing in strength during that earlier era and are now in retreat, at least temporarily.

But keep this in the back of your mind. If there is room for scandal and the wingnuts can get traction, this is one of their tried and true methods of getting it "out there."

Update: The AP is framing it as an Obama "problem" and the Republicans are eagerly jumping into the fray:

Obama works to distance himself from Blagojevich
Tuesday, December 09, 2008 2:34:30 PM

Though Barack Obama isn't accused of anything, the charges against his home-state governor -- concerning Obama's own Senate seat no less -- are an unwelcome distraction. And the ultimate fallout is unclear.

As Obama works to set up his new administration and deal with a national economic crisis, suddenly he also is spending time and attention trying to distance himself from Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and charges that the governor was trying to sell the now-vacant Senate post.

The president-elect was blunt and brief in addressing the case on Tuesday: "I had no contact with the governor or his office, and so I was not aware of what was happening" concerning any possible dealing about Blagojevich's appointment of a successor.

It's Obama's first big headache since his election last month, and Republicans were anything but eager to let it go away.

Said Rep Eric Cantor of Virginia, the new GOP House whip: "The serious nature of the crimes listed by federal prosecutors raises questions about the interaction with Gov. Blagojevich, President-elect Obama and other high ranking officials who will be working for the future president."

Said Robert M. "Mike" Duncan, chairman of the Republican National Committee: "Americans expect strong leadership, but President-elect Barack Obama's comments on the matter are insufficient at best."

Hypocritical Republicans just automatically spew that stuff out so it doesn't really mean anything. The press showing some appetite for that angle is a little bit more troubling. We'll see.

Update II: Here's another angle from Richard Viguerie:

The corruption uncovered in the investigation of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is just a tiny part of the criminality that runs throughout the country’s politics, Richard A. Viguerie, the Chairman of, said.

“Before we turn over the car companies, the financial sector, the health care system, and much of the rest of the American economy over to these guys, we need to realize: We are opening doors to a level of corruption like we have never seen before,” he said.

“The American Way is not supposed to be ‘the Chicago Way,’” said Viguerie. “And it doesn’t have to be. There’s still time to save America from becoming one big Chicago.”

Blagojevich is alleged to have, in effect, put his state’s open U.S. Senate seat up for bid. He is also alleged to have made support for a bailout of the Chicago Tribune contingent on the firing of certain members of the newspaper’s editorial board.

“First, this should mean that, whatever else happens in terms of bailouts, media organizations should be excluded absolutely. People should simply assume that any media bailout comes with political conditions, and that any media organization that receives taxpayers’ money is working for the politicians who give them that money.[heh, very clever --- ed]

“Second, we should look at all bailouts and infrastructure spending, with an eye on the connections between the politicians who spend taxpayers’ money and the special interests who benefit from the projects.”


“How are the people supposed to have faith in our government, when the people in charge of investigating the financial crisis are the same ones who forced lenders to give mortgage money to people who couldn’t repay their loans? That includes Chris Dodd, who got a sweetheart deal from mortgage lenders, and Barney Frank, who was censured by the House.”

I expect them to start using the term "culture of corruption" any minute, regardless of the fact that the Republicans just spent 8 years wearing themselves out looting and pillaging the public treasury, some of them even going to jail for it.

But that's how it works. They are very good at shoving liberals' words back down their throats at the first opportunity. It usually works too --- people either simply assume that there isn't a dime's worth of difference between the two parties, or forget that it was Republicans who made a fetish out of K Street lobbying and even passed out checks on the House floor and lay it all at the feet of the Democrats. It's part of the GopSoviet airbrushing of the Bush years.