Obama The Practical

July 23, 2008

A guest perspective……..


It’s fun to watch Obamaniacs’ disillusion over Their Chosen One’s changes of position. They seem to view his modifications as a form of treason but it’s really been quite clear that what the man is is a very good politician. He seems to have always understood that the way to power was the path of the empty vessel—allowing himself to be filled by his fans with whatever they needed to see in a national leader. And so he was painted as a change agent, a new kind of politician. And much of this has come from a national perspective. But in Illinois the view has been just a little bit different.

The salient point to understand about Illinois is that it is one of the most politically corrupt states in the nation. We have one scandal after another, one trial after another, and we probably hold the record for the number of governors sent to the big house. Our current leader just may be on the first leg of that journey.

None of which is to say that Obama is corrupt. But he didn’t get where he got by failing to understand how the system works. And there is no question he has been part of that system.

The country is now familiar with the name Tony Rezko, the convicted political fraudster who’s now in jail for his unsavory gaming of the system. Rezko was the very first contributor to Obama when he was just starting his career. He was a man who was known as a purchaser of politicians, so it was more than a little odd that Obama allowed Rezko to essentially give him a several-hundred-thousand-dollar discount on his house by buying his backyard for him. When caught Obama says he made a mistake.

By comparison some of his political endorsements are hardly worth mentioning, but they say a lot about his method of operation…….

Exhibit A– Todd Stroger. He is the incompetent and widely reviled president of the Cook County Board who inherited the job after his father suffered a stroke. There are said to be something like 14 Strogers on the county payroll, which says a great deal about how things work here. There were competent reformers running for the job but Todd Stroger was endorsed by Obama, hardly the choice of a New Kind of Politician.

Then there’s the slightly strange case of Alexi Giannoulias. He was a complete unknown until an Obama endorsement vaulted him into Somebodyhood. Young Alexi was 29 when he ran for the State Treasurer. He promoted himself as an experienced banker who could whip the state’s finances into shape. He failed to mention that he got the bank job because his daddy owned the place and made him an officer. During the campaign it came out that the bank had some dealings with convicted felons who had mob ties. Young Alexi tried hard to disassociate himself from these people but his stories didn’t hold much water. Still, Obama gave his strong endorsement, and did a crucial campaign commercial for Giannoulias. He did it, not because Alexi was the best candidate, but because the bank had been a strong financial supporter of Obama candidacies.

Depending on your point of view, this background could be seen as oddly reassuring. Whatever else he is, it’s clear that Obama is a practical politician whose career has been grounded in political reality. Politics is a game that Barack knows how to play. If he wins he will certainly owe many large debts to various Democratic constituencies, but conservatives may be able to console themselves with the thought that it could have been a lot worse. Obama’s demonstrated practical streak may indicate that he will manage the government from the center, not the Left.

John Winkler, a former producer at ABC Network News, is now a newsman at ABC’s local affiliate in Chicago.

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