Obama can't match the Clintons' cool sleaziness 

When "not illegal" is the best thing that the White House can say about the behavior of the president's top aides, it's not a good sign.

But the Obama administration finds itself holding the sleazy-but-legal line on deals Rahm Emanuel and his lieutenant, Jim Messina, tried to cut to keep Democrats Joe Sestak and Andrew Romanoff from taking on the national party's preferred candidates in Senate primaries.

In both cases, the efforts failed. Sestak was helped to his victory over Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania by squealing on the White House and condemning the offer. Romanoff tattled too in hopes that he would follow suit in Colorado in August. The power of the presidency was flouted and President Obama, who boasts of his own ethicality, was cast in a sallow light.

If Democrats wanted a president who knew how to do dirty work but stay within the letter of law, they would have nominated Hillary Clinton. Her husband's administration was an eight-year jazz riff on legal evasion.

We've never seen the former first lady's grand jury testimony about the Whitewater land deal. But you can be certain that it was four hours of expert parsing and legal parrying.

You can bet Mrs. Clinton knew better than to incriminate herself when Ken Starr asked about disappearing, reappearing billing records and her uncanny ability to make money without working.

Candidate Obama promised to be above all that kind of slipperiness.

So you knew that the president was in deep sauerkraut when "the most open and transparent administration in history" called in Bill "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is" Clinton to try to mop up the Sestak situation. But they needed Billy Jeff Clinton to use some of his Ozark doubletalk.

The story that resulted from Clinton, Sestak and White House Counsel Robert Bauer is a shaggy-dog tale worthy of a teenager caught sneaking home after a kegger.

Obama called in a favor from his former foe Bill Clinton in order to offer Sestak an unidentified advisory post that the congressman was not legally allowed to accept? Sestak happened to have cut Clinton off just before the former president could blurt out the name of the commission?

It does not add credence to the Obama-Clinton-Sestak story that both of those unlikely events help the White House avoid the criminal statute that makes it a felony to bribe someone out of a primary with a federal job.

When reporters ask questions, press secretary Robert Gibbs only chants the mantra, "I would refer you to the memo." But since the memo is so paltry, this is the equivalent of telling a reporter to go soak his head.

An administration that obsesses over media minutiae took three months to come up with a plan on Sestak that amounts to stonewalling Republican calls for an investigation and blowing off reporters.

That's like needing five weeks to cut the pipe on the BP oil leak and jam a partial cap on the gusher. Partial success achieved through blunt force shouldn't take so long.

The story with Romanoff is more believable.

Sen. Michael Bennet looks to have something of a political glass jaw, and Obama wanted to protect him in exchange for the appointed senator's loyalty, especially on health care.

Messina dangled, but did not explicitly promise, three plum administration jobs if Romanoff would leave Bennet be. Messina knew how to be sleazy but legal and even felt confident enough to spell it out in an e-mail.

Democrats should be alarmed that the top aides of their president were trying to bribe liberal reformers out of primary challenges of establishment Democrats.

And it should trouble them deeply to remember that insurgent candidate Obama said primary challenges made for stronger candidates, but that President Obama now seems to support a party boss model.

But the most unsettling thing to Democrats shouldn't be that the Obama team is like other conniving politicians, but that they are such hapless bagmen.

Bill Clinton got away with lying under oath about being serviced by a 23-year-old intern and these guys can't even take out a couple of Dudley Do Rights from some midterm Senate primaries and get caught at it to boot. If you're going to be sleazy but legal, you've got to be better than that.

Chris Stirewalt is the political editor of The Washington Examiner. He can be reached at cstirewalt@washingtonexaminer.com

About The Author

Chris Stirewalt


Washington Examiner Political Editor Chris Stirewalt, who coordinates political coverage for the newspaper and ExaminerPolitics.com in addition to writing a twice-weekly column and
regular blog posts.

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