Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Obama's Checkers Speech

The new politics can take a leaf from the very old tomorrow night at the 21st Democratic debate. Just as Richard Nixon saved his vice-presidential candidacy in 1952 from news of a secret political slush fund, Barack Obama has to explain away Antoin Rezko as an obstacle to his campaign's momentum.

For weeks now, the darker side of the Clinton machine has been hammering him with accusations about the Chicago slumlord, and the Former First Lady herself invoked the dreaded name during the last debate.

Yesterday there was another drip of Rezko bad news as Obama's campaign upped the amount of contributions being given to charity to almost $150,000.

Obama's style precludes maudlin Nixon props like his wife's cloth coat and the family dog, but he would be well-advised to prepare his own one-minute version of the Checkers speech to unload the Rezko albatross.

It isn't enough to pass his patron off, as Obama did at the last debate, as someone for whom he did "a few hours" of legal work. Their association has persisted for years and, now that Rezko will be in the headlines facing federal corruption charges, Obama should get out ahead of the issue with his own mea culpa, particularly about the fixer's role in buying the Obamas' home.

In June 2005, Rezko and Obama bought adjoining properties. The senator paid $1.65 million for a Georgian revival mansion, while Rezko bought an adjacent, undeveloped lot for $625,000. Six months later, Obama paid Rezko $104,500 for a strip of his land.

The presidential candidate expressed regrets over the transactions to the Chicago Sun-Times in 2006: "I consider this a mistake on my part and I regret it...(W)hile I tried to pay close attention to the specific requirements of ethical conduct, I misgauged the appearance presented by my purchase of the additional land from Mr. Rezko."

Now he has to tell American voters and take away ammunition for attacks on his character that will keep coming until or unless he does. Nixon showed the way.


Anonymous said...

You are correct, of course, in that he needs to get in front of the story or at least attempt to turn it into "old news." He seems to be doing that for the most part, since it is his own campaign that dug up the dollar value of the contributions and donated it to charity (as did Clinton with the Hsu money).

But all the candidates have these seeming ethical lapses in their past, both recent and long term, on both the Dem and Rep sides. Obama's armor isn't without a dent or two, but is Clinton's (or McCain's or Romney's) in better shape? Not even close!

Anonymous said...

Will Hillary's Giustra trump Obama's Rezko?

Guistra's $131 million donation to the William
J Clinton foundation might be considered a Royal Flush.

McCain's banking on 9ui11iani, and Mitt's betting on Mann Coulter. They should both fold.

Obama definitely has the upper hand.