I act like a world-weary veteran of politics, but I can still be shocked. I thought the Republican National Committee's huffing and puffing about how the Rod Blagojevich scandal will hurt Barack Obama would be seen for the desperate political posturing it is. When Americans are lying to pollsters about the fact that they voted for the disgraced current occupant of the White House, you know the GOP has big problems it can't deflect by attacking Obama.
But I was wrong. Cable news continues to hyperventilate over the possible damage Blagojevich may cause to the Democratic president-elect. Even though the only thing we know about the scandal is that Blagojevich is caught on tape ranting obscenely that Obama won't pay-to-play on the issue of his Senate seat – he refers to him as a "motherfucker" for his recalcitrance – we're being subjected to endless rounds of "what did Obama (or his staff) know, and when did they know it?" in the media.
I thought the president-elect handled the issue well at his press conference Thursday. He made a joke about Blagojevich's colorful language and said he couldn't repeat it on a "family program." Obama looked like the happiest man in history ever to be called a "motherfucker." But on "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue" today, Newsweek's Michael Isikoff and David Shuster both said they thought Obama was taking too long to answer questions about who, if anyone, on his staff had talked to anyone on Blagojevich's staff about the Senate appointment.
I said I think that's silly. It's barely been 48 hours since the scandal broke; the normally cautious and diligent Obama team may actually be trying to do a thorough job of its accounting, rather than putting out partial information to the media, and having it come back to bite them. Also, given what we know so far about the scandal, and also about Obama, it seems awfully early to jump to the conclusion he's trying to hide something by not listing every associate's contact with Blagojevich's office. It's not as though he doesn't have a lot to do, what with crises erupting from Mumbai to Wall Street during his transition, and only today, venal Republican senators blocking the Big Three bailout supported by both Obama and President Bush, in large measure because they want to break union labor. Personally I'd rather he focus on those issues, rather than doing the RNC's bidding, and accounting for every member of his transition team who might ever have talked to any member of Blagojevich's staff. Please.
It's certainly the job of reporters to ask questions, and I'm not arguing that Obama deserves a pass on this one. David Axelrod's backtracking on the question of whether Obama talked directly to Blogojevich about the appointment -- first he said his boss did, then he said he didn't -- was a rare misstep for the disciplined Obama team, but it's not evidence of a coverup. Meanwhile, Obama appointed former Sen. Majority Leader Tom Daschle as secretary of health and human Services, and that story is being treated as a "distraction" from the Blago scandal.
As always, Joe Conason says it best: With a Democratic president back in the White House, it looks like the Clinton Rules (Gene Lyons' great coinage) are back in force. "Perhaps we should be mindful of the vast amounts of money, time, journalistic, prosecutorial, congressional and presidential effort that were squandered on the mythical crimes of the Clinton era. Can America still afford that kind of stupidity?" The answer is no.