Joe Biden warned us that Barack Obama would be tested. We just didn’t realize the test would come within six weeks and would come from crooks at home, not terrorists abroad.
The “pay to pick” scandal in Illinois is getting so much attention we’re all going to learn how to pronounce Gov. Blagojevich’s name. Republicans and Fox News are in full cry, sensing the first chink in Obama’s armor.
I think Obama will pass the test. Here’s why.
- He has astoundingly high positive ratings right now. He has a big credit balance in the public’s mind – if he handles the next few days and weeks right.
- He has been famously at odds with Jesse Jackson, Sr., who was caught during the campaign wishing to cut Obama’s nuts off.
- Obama and Rahm Emanuel knew that Blagojevich was radioactive – and they apparently kept their distance.
- What some people see as Obama’s “cool” always struck me as cold political ruthlessness – an essential quality in a successful politician. He’ll cut their nuts off.
There is an uncomfortable racial aspect to this story. Black politicians always believe they are unfairly targeted by white media and prosecutors. But there is a tradition of “street money” in black politics. There has always been a hint of the corporate shakedown in Jesse Jackson, Sr.’s civil-rights activities. In North Carolina, we saw the conviction of Rep. Thomas Wright. The Legislative Black Caucus got enmeshed in ethical questions.
Obama has always kept his distance from trouble. In fact, there were numerous reports around Election Day that the Obama campaign – in North Carolina and other states – was doing something no white politician could get away with: refusing to pay the street money.
It’s not just race. Obama rose out of the swamp of Chicago politics, not totally clean, but cleaner than most.
My guess is that he will play this differently than Jesse Jackson, Jr. did. Jackson may well be totally innocent and as outraged as he sounded at his press conference. But we’re a cynical lot, hardened by repeated exposure to politicians’ heated denials of wrongdoing: “I am not a crook.” “I did not have sex with that woman.”
Obama is more likely to play it cool than hot. Remain low-key, as he did in crises throughout the campaign. And patiently let the course of time and events work for him.
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