March 5, 2008

It's almost impossible for Glenn Greenwald to exaggerate about anything

Glenn Greenwald in Salon, March 5:

'Rezko' is the Whitewater of the Obama campaign. It's almost impossible now to find an article or news account about Obama that doesn't include some dark reference to the 'Rezko' affair, always with the suggestion or even overt claim that it's reflective of some serious vulnerability, some suggestion of wrongdoing and corruption.

Results of Google News search for articles about Obama that do not include any reference to Rezko:


Don't get me wrong, I don't think there's anything to this Rezko business and Greenwald has a point that the media likes to whip up scandals, but let's be real...

Having paid only casual attention to it in the past, I spent several hours yesterday morning reading every "Rezko" article I could find in an attempt to understand as much as possible about the allegations. The point isn't that there is no credible evidence of any wrongdoing on the part of Obama, although that's unquestionably true. It's far beyond that. There aren't even any theoretical allegations or suggestions as to what he might have done wrong at all. The person who is accused of wrongdoing is Tony Rezko, in matters inarguably having nothing to do with Obama. Nobody claims otherwise (although many try to imply otherwise).

See, I spent several minutes just now reading that hotbed of conservative media herd mentality, TPM Muckraker and learned this:

Obama has acknowleged, however, that Rezko's likely motivation for buying the lot was to curry favor with him. Rezko reportedly admitted as much to his business associates. And as The New York Times reports today, Rezko was so heavily in debt at the time he purchased the lot that he did it under his wife's name in order to protect it from creditors. And then there's the other big question, whether Obama ever did anything for Rezko in return for his purchase of the side yard or all those contributions.

Evidence? No. Theoretical allegations or suggestions as to what he might have done wrong? That's pretty much exactly what I'd call that.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


Greenwald's rhetorical excesses aside, there is still a lot less meat to the Rezko story than there is to the much-maligned NYT McCain-lobbyist article. We KNOW what McCain did, but we are left with the trickier-to-prove but less interesting "why." With Obama we've got a tenuous reason for Obama to have done something improper ... but no allegation that he ever did.

Alas, because the NYT decided to try a turn at playing "The Enquirer," none of McCain's real problems (Keating, FCC letters) will ever see the pages of a newspaper again.

none of McCain's real problems (Keating, FCC letters) will ever see the pages of a newspaper again.

That hadn't occurred to me, but you're absolutely right. Wow.

Isn't this the gist of the "Rezko" affair and how it impacts Obama?:

1. Obama's appeal is that he is a a "different kind of politician"

2. Obama's campaign is based on the premise that he has superior judgment

Both these points get eroded by the image of a Chicago politician (Obama) getting into a deal with a man already under federal indictment (Rezko) in a deal that results in the politician getting a $300,000 price break on his end of the deal, while the federally indicted guy pays full price.

In Chicago, this plays out as "politics as usual" (which counteracts point #1).

Obama himself has accepted that the deal represented bad judgment on his part (which undermines point #2).

None of this makes Obama worse than Clinton or McCain from an ethical point of view. But it doesn't make him look completely untainted either.

This is all a very old news cycle in Chicago (Daniel, you and I traded emails about it well over a year ago) and the thousands of column inches printed in these parts before it became a national story haven't been able to touch Obama without big leaps and stretches.

One point, though. You might question Obama's judgment for being a friend of a guy like Rezko, but you have to go way back to apply the fault. They first met 18 years ago when Obama was in law school. Also, Obama did not get into a land deal with a man "already under federal indictment." Obama bought his house in 2005. Rezko was indicted (for dealings having nothing to do with Obama) in October of 2006.

Kevin -- I haven't followed this closely so am happy to admit I got the "already indicted" part wrong about Rezko. Looks like Obama could have/should have known he was under federal investigation at the time of the deal though:


For me, the question boils down to whether Obama is really a new kind of politician -- and,if so, should he be held to a higher standard?


I wasn't trying to play gotcha, there. I just wanted to clarify.

As someone who has been following Obama for years, I think he's a really smart man with a sound moral compass. I hope that doesn't necessarily make him "a new kind of politician." I think that phrase establishes an expectation that couldn't be met by anyone. And I'm not sure that Obama himself has asked to be judged by that standard.

Salon has a mostly fair summary of their relationship.

It's a lot shorter than the one they would have to write about Hillary's relationships with hinky Clinton donors.

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