Amazingly, The President Is A Politician

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.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.


  1. It is ILLEGAL to bribe either a public official, or a candidate for public office. In most states this extends to the officials and sometimes mere employees of political parties, even though those parties are "technically" not public officials.If you can't tell that this FELONY LEVEL behavior is what the corrupt chicago-style Obama administration is doing, then you have a problem and the thought of you ever ascending to the bench scares the shit out of me.

  2. Addendum: if you want to tell someone "we think, for the good of the political party, it would be best for you to step aside", that's fine and dandy. You're talking politics.If, on the other hand, you tell them "if you step aside, we'll give you post X or position Y or get you a membership on board Z…", you have just committed felony bribery, the same as Rod Blagojevich trying to sell Obama's former senate seat. And it doesn't surprise me at all that an administration whose major figures like Obama and Axelrod – who all come out of the criminally corrupt Chicago machine – would do things like this. My only wonder is that it hasn't been caught sooner.

  3. While I will not go as far as Mike has gone, I will say that I still feel it's unethical to entice someone out of a political race. Maybe it's been done for generations of politicians, but that still doesn't make it ~right~. President Obama campaigned on the idea of "change". He insisted that he was going do things differently in Washington. If this is "business as usual" then it's not nessecarily "right".In theory it's supposed to be about letting the people decide who they want to represent them. Trying to play politics to take away the "people's choice" just feels "Off" and I really think it should. It may be good politics but I can't see it as being something that should be lauded.You're right; this never should have gotten out. But now that it has, Obama is in the unfortunate position to own it, apologize for it, and then move on.

  4. Settle down, Mike. Sestak himself has said that there was no quid pro quo. Nothing of value was offered, only the possibility of serving in an unpaid advisory position while retaining his seat in the house. Therefore, there was no violation of the statute.By the way, Saint Ronnie did this in California in the 80's, are you prepared to revoke his sainthood?Also, where was your condemnation of the role the Bush administration played in the outing of a CIA agent? That's much more serious than saying "hey, why don't you stay out of this race, m'kay?"

  5. "Where was this during the outting…"Isn't that a bit of a misdirection? If the issue is the ethics of offering a job to someone to keep them from running in an election, shouldn't that be the issue? Not the misdeeds of the previous administration?

  6. Deraj,I don't give two shits about "saint ronnie" (which I presume you mean as a derogatory reference to former president Ronald Reagan?). Topic on hand. Someone in Obama's administration is busy committing felony bribery attempts. And someone else here, with "aspirations to the bench", thinks that felony bribery is no big deal. That should be a scary thought.

  7. Of course whether Reagan, Bush, Clinton, or any other public official offered "plum" political positions (for any number of reasons) is irrelevant to the question of whether it is either legal or moral for Obama to do it.On a moral level, I suggested that the act was unseemly and on a political level, I suggested that it was clumsy. The issue raised here, however, is whether it is legal. Seems to me that a good judge actually looks up the law before pronouncing guilt or innocence. The relevant statutes appear to be 18 U.S.C. 201 and 18 U.S.C. 210.Let us assume that the prosecution and the defense stipulate that Obama, or a surrogate acting on his behalf such as Rahm Emmanuel, approached Sestak and said, "If you withdraw your primary challenge to Senator Specter, the President will appoint you to position 'X' within the White House."In this case, Obama/Emmanuel is not asking Sestak to do anything in his capacity as a U.S. Congressman. Rather, he is being asked to do something in his capacity as a candidate for, but not the holder of, a candidate for the Democratic Party's nomination for the U.S. Senate. "Candidate for partisan nomination" is not the same thing as "holder of a public office." For purposes of this offer, then, Sestak is not a "public official" nor a "person who has been selected to be a public official," nor is any "official act" implicated by the proposition. Therefore on its face, a very substantial argument can be made that this is not a violation of 18 U.S.C. 201.Further, Sestak isn't offering, or agreeing to someone else's proposal that he convey, "something of value" to Obama or Emmanuel so as to procure the White House job, and therefore there is no a violation of 18 U.S.C. 210. (Recall that the position purportedly offered to Sestak was an unpaid one, which tends to diminish the idea that the position itself was "something of value".)So, it looks to me like there is no crime here. You're welcome to offer an argument otherwise, but if you're going to argue about the law, please cite and refer to actual law, not inchoate notions of what you think the law ought to be. That's what I think a good judge ought to do.Your opinions of what a good judge does may differ from mine, of course.

  8. On a different note, Mike, please recall that it is possible to disagree without being disagreeable. You could have argued your position thus:TL, haven't you overlooked the fact that Obama tried to bribe Sestak?orOffering a job to someone in exchange for their withdrawing from a political race is bribery. Bribery is a crime. You are therefore wrong to suggest that no crime was committed.Both of these directly and forcefully express your argument, and they do not contain any insults or ad hominem attacks. I thank you in advance for adopting a more respectful tone in future comments.

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