Sunday, April 06, 2008

Obama's Corruption Problem

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"What we have," Peraica says, "is a level of corruption that is integrated both vertically and horizontally across all layers of government: city, municipal, county, and state." To him, the Rezko case illustrates that corruption in Illinois is a bipartisan problem. "We have a corrupt political combine, where the members of the two parties… have come together, not pursuant to a public interest, but to pursue their own financial interests, which they have done with great zeal and ingenuity."

This corruption, should it become an issue in the campaign, could cause problems for Obama when people start to wonder how he could have made it through "the combine" without getting involved in the overlapping networks of patronage and influence. Peraica, for one, argues that he didn't.

"Senator Barack Obama is an integral part and a product of this corrupt system," Peraica says. "Senator Obama has endorsed Todd Stroger for Cook County board president, Mayor [Richard M.] Daley for mayor of Chicago, Dorothy Tillman for re-election as an alderman, and other epitomes of bad government throughout his career in order to promote himself politically, at the expense of, I would argue, principles and morals and good government."

Obama's relationship with Allison Davis — the alleged go-between in Rezko's scheme to shake down Tom Rosenberg — could pose another problem for him. Obama worked for Davis at the law firm of Davis Miner Barnhill. Later, when Obama sat on the board of a charity called the Woods Fund, he voted to invest $1 million in a partnership operated by Davis, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Levine's testimony in the Rezko trial puts Davis in the middle of an attempted quid pro quo, making him yet another associate Obama might be pressured to disown. And the trial could stretch well into May, at which point a Rezko conviction could lead to even more headaches for the candidate. If Rezko is looking at a long prison sentence and decides to start talking, who knows what he might say?

All the more reason that Obama might be tempted to try to address this metastasizing problem with a single bold gesture. Obama made a big speech about race to distract from his ties to one unsavory Chicago character, but distancing himself from an entire network of them might prove to be a tougher task. After all, Obama was able to claim the middle ground in his defense of Wright, denouncing Wright's most radical views while excusing his run-of-the-mill resentments as being a not-atypical part of the black experience.

But America will have a harder time swallowing excuses for corruption as being a run-of-the-mill aspect of the Illinois political experience — particularly not from a candidate that has promised a new kind of politics. To succeed, Obama would have to denounce the behavior of some of his closest allies and demonstrate a candor about his own experience in state government that's been missing from his campaign thus far. In the Rezko trial, Obama might have finally encountered a problem that a speech alone won't solve.
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-- Stephen Spruiell is an NRO staff reporter.


  
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