Thursday, June 12, 2008

On a Manifestation of Inexperience

Just as John McCain's strongest and weakest points are his Washington experience and associations, Barack Obama's strongest and weakest points are his lack of Washington associations and experience. But exactly how do these generalizations manifest themselves? In the past few months we have already seen one way.

Obama in the past month has left his church of 20 years and fired his Veep Vetter - two rather drastic and abrupt dissociations. Is Obama really that much slimier than the average politician in the company he keeps? Personally, I suspect not. But he's had less time than the average presidential candidate to cull his circle of confidants.

In the course of human affairs, we all make friends with some unsavory types. And in the course of political affairs, some of those friends are ratted out. Some politicians (like McCain) move sharply away from anyone they suspect is dirty; others (like the Clintons) move sharply away from those who can't effectively hide their dirt. Others (like President Harding) never move away and get burned - often badly.

With his meteoric rise from State Senator to odds-on 44th POTUS, Obama has had just a few years to relegate to the past some worrying types - Rev. Wright, Fr. Pfleger, and William Ayers. In addition, he has not been in Washington long enough to learn who is really pukka sahib and who is likely to have sleaze in every pocket. The resignation of Jim Johnson reveals either very bad luck or very poor knowledge of Johnson's character and reputation. Opinion Journal reviews the damage, and suggests further inquiry into the Veep Vetting team.

Obama's campaign is running low on excuses for its friends. But in reality, the between-the-lines message should be, "Hey, we're new at this game. We're getting rid of the slimy types as soon as we identify them." Whether they'll purge out such characters (and, more importantly, such behavior) quickly enough to govern effectively is, I think, a judgment fairly left with the voters.

Neither side in this game of "gotcha" should get too prickly: public officials and those who advise them are absolutely fair game for revelations of past malfeasance, whether in public service, business, or private life. At the same time, a campaign or administration should not be judged harshly for ignorance, as long as it acts promptly when the truth is revealed. McCain's response to the Keating Five scandal - immediate apology and sharp dissociation - is model behavior; the Clinton's cat-and-mouse games and last-minute pardons of friends and contributors are model misbehavior. Here's hoping Obama is more of a statesman than a politician.

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