Twice in as many weeks, it has been revealed that the Obama Administration has offered White House jobs to prominent primary challengers to incumbent Democrats. Once in Pennsylvania and now, we learn, in Colorado. The idea seems to be to let Democratic incumbents keep their seats and avoid bruising and expensive primary fights which, in the end, would only benefit Republicans.
There seems to be nothing illegal about this. I can’t even think of why it ought to be illegal. The President is, after all, a politician, and he depends on his own party maintaining a majority in Congress to help him govern as he sees fit. Presidential intervention in elections seems perfectly okay if the President hosts or attends a fundraising dinner for a Congressional candidate; why not, then, have political involvement in other ways — including the time-honored tactic of easing competition out of the way?
I suppose the idea is that the people ought to be able to express their choices free from political machinations by the already-powerful, but that’s nonsense on stilts. The people don’t get a whole lot of choice about who stands for election in the first place. From there, the primary process is not open to the people in most states, just to members of a particular party. And no one seems to have any problem with someone trying to persuade a candidate to stand aside and let someone else get a nomination — witness, for instance, Tom Campbell’s decision to switch from the Gubernatorial race to the Senate race in California. Whether that works out or not remains to be seen; the point is, no one thought there was anything improper about it.
Could it be the offer of a job, of patronage? Yes, that’s unseemly, but no more so than other things that are accepted and noncontroversial. If President Obama wants to offer a plum to a primary candidate so as to keep a trusted ally in the Senate, really, is that any different than President Obama recognizing that someone raised a million dollars for his election campaign and making the guy the ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago? Come to think of it, I’ll wager that one reason there are so many autonomous island nations in the tropics is so that the elites of various nations with crappy weather can become ambassadors to them and enjoy a few years of life in paradise as a reward for the otherwise-unglamorous work of delivering the political goods.
If the candidate is obviously unqualified for the job, that would be one thing. But the outrage doesn’t seem to be over a perceived inability to do the job in question. Rather, the outrage seems to be that the President meddled in a primary election, he took sides in an intra-party dispute, and didn’t remain “above the fray.” Perhaps this is un-presidential, but it really just seems like smart, tough politics to me. And as I said before, the President is, first and foremost, a politician. The only real problem I see with this is indiscretion — it shouldn’t have ever come to light at all.