Those involved in the presidential scandal surrounding the
Obama administration's attempt to clear the primary field for Republican-turned-Democrat
Arlen Specter serve as a good example of how the game of politics is played
when a scandal erupts. And it's played all the time by both parties, at all levels.
Political tactic: Be
flexible in your principles
Arlen Specter, who is more accurately called a Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Democrat,
switched parties after his liberal Republican sensitivities--culminating in his
support of President Obama's massive healthcare overhaul--all but ensured his
defeat in the next Republican primary.
Specter and the Democratic Party must have made
a deal last year whereby Specter would register as a Democrat and the Obama
administration would help clear the field of Democrats for him. Pursuant to that,
White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel--a modern day Cesare Borgia--enlisted Bill
Clinton to offer Specter's Democratic primary opponent, Joe Sestak, a job in
the executive branch.
Specter, for decades a Republican
with a spine of boiled okra, realized his own party couldn't stand him. So he
flipped, became a Democrat, and gave President Barack Obama the all-important
60th vote in the Senate to stop Republican filibustering.
Obama wanted to protect Specter.
And Clinton carried the message: Sestak could remain in Congress and take a
fancy appointment to a presidential advisory board.
Deny, deny, deny
Sestak turned down the offer, defeated Specter, and just
last week the story hit the front pages. But rumors had been swirling around
for months. In Feburary, Sestak was asked
about the job offer by journalist Larry Kane. Sestak confirmed the rumor, but
would not say what position was offered him.
Kane's station played the report
aired all night. At 6:45 the next
morning, 15 hours later, a Deputy Press Secretary called and said, "You
can say the White House says it's not true."
Political tactic: When
it can't be ignored, make vague statements and hope it goes away
The story really caught fire last week, and the political game
then kicked into overdrive as members of the Obama administration ran for
cover. On May 23rd, Bob Schieffer of Meet the Press asked
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs about allegations of a job offer.
"I'm not going to get into it," Mr.
Gibbs said, "but people who have looked into it assure me the conversations
were not inappropriate in any way."
First, they denied. Now they admitted to it with vague
language that nothing "inappropriate" was done. Does that mean ethically?
Legally? At this point, the administration couldn't ignore the story anymore,
but didn't want to advance it with a full admission. They merely hoped it would
Political tactic: When
you must make an admission of wrongdoing, do it when nobody is paying attention
It didn't go away and the Obama administration was forced to
make a more direct response:
On the Friday before Memorial Day,
100 days later, a classic news dump day, the White House Counsel Robert Bauer
issued his report. He claimed that White
House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel enlisted the support of Bill Clinton,
"who agreed to raise with Congressman Sestak options of service on a
Presidential or other Senior Executive Branch Advisory Board."
They chose a Friday on a three-day holiday weekend, when few
people are paying attention. By the time
Tuesday rolls around, the politicians will hope that it is "old news."
Has Obama used this tactic before? Right
before the last three-day weekend, President's Day, the White House admitted,
sort of, that it mishandled the New York trial of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik
Hide the witnesses
The link to the White House to this scandal is Rahm Emanuel,
a Machiavellian political operative with a reputation that mobsters would be
proud of. What does Rahm have to say about this? We don't know, he's
The trip, to celebrate Emanuel's son's Bar Mitzvah, has been
planned since at least November 10th, so it's difficult to accuse
the administration of arranging it as a cover up. But Emanuel left a little bit
before the Memorial Day break, and one can't help but wonder if he didn't get
out of Dodge earlier than expected.
Obama hid Jeremiah Wright in Africa when his scandal broke
during the presidential campaign.
Political tactic: Employ
proxies to split hairs
If you're a Democrat, you don't want Clinton, Emanuel, or Obama
talking about any of this, but you want your message out there. So, proxies are
employed to keep the story from being one-sided. The progressive media is
perfect for this. Because the job offer was for an unpaid position, it's
technically legal. That doesn't necessarily make it OK, but it provides a good talking
point to prevent the story from getting out of control from a PR perspective.
Political tactic: Justify
bad behavior by pointing to other bad behavior
One of the most common, and fallacious, defensive political
tactics is to go on the offensive and blame the other team for the same thing.
It's a cheap, but unfortunately effective, trick. White House counsel Robert
"There have been numerous,
reported instances in the past when prior administrations -- both Democratic and
Republican, and motivated by the same goals -- discussed alternative paths to
service for qualified individuals also considering campaigns for public office.
Such discussions are fully consistent with the relevant law and ethical
It didn't work with your mother--"If Bill jumped off of a
bridge, would you do it too"--and it doesn't work with people that are paying
attention. But dishonest people will employ it to trick those that aren't
Bill Clinton denied his affair with Monica Lewinsky
repeatedly, lying to everyone, then suddenly his people admitted it and said, "So
what? It's just sex." If it was no big deal, why did they lie about it for so
long. Additionally, they ignored the obstruction of justice charges, which are more
than "just sex."
In this job offer scandal, some proxies are saying that
Obama has enough to worry about with the oil spill, the bad economy, and
foreign affairs to worry about such a matter.
The bottom line is that both parties are actively engaged in
lying on a daily basis. They call it public relations, but it's all attempts to
present their version of the truth rather than the truth itself. Political
operatives will tell you that it's necessary to win and prevent the bad guys
from taking over, and they're probably right. As long as the public refuses to
pay attention to what their government is doing, the politicians can
successfully advance their careers by lying. After a little while, they don't
even see it as a deceptive practice--they rationalize it by telling themselves
they are just presenting their side of the story.
I don't have much of a problem with an unpaid position being
offered. This is common in politics, which isn't an excuse for bad behavior,
but I don't really know how bad it is. It's happened everywhere and all
throughout history, and I've heard it's happened locally.
It's the president's cover-up that bothers me. I respect
Democratic Governor Ed Rendell for saying this
on Fox News Sunday:
"I did the same thing in 2006 to
ask a former congressman, Joe Hoeffel, to drop out of the race against Bob
Casey in the primary... I said, 'Come back and see me if you do it.' He came back
and saw me, and he was out of public service. I appointed him as a deputy
secretary of commerce. He did a great job."