Senator Obama hits a speed bump
By Michael M. Bates
One election is over and another one begins. Things were going swimmingly for Senator Barack Obama's presidential aspirations.
One poll showed that the Illinois freshman trailed only Mrs. Clinton among Democratic voters expressing a preference for a 2008 candidate. That's astounding. A senator with less than two years' experience warms the cockles of Democratic hearts more than such familiar standbys as Al "The Sky Is Falling" Gore, Jokin' John Kerry and Joseph Biden, still eager to make the world safe for hair plugs.
Mr. Obama says he hasn't decided yet if he wants to run for the White House. His official Web site, obama.senate.gov, however, is suggestive.
In the "News Room" section the first article listed is "Obama Comes to Rockford" from October 2. Oddly, no source for the piece is identified. I doubt that it was written by an Obama staffer. It could have been.
The report notes that the senator answered questions while, "Some didn't have any questions at all. They just sat in awe and were star struck. ‘It was amazing. He's so inspiring and everyone loves him. It's just an incredible energy,'" a Rockford denizen is quoted as saying. Another one said, "I think he's a wonderful man, and I hope he does run for President of the United States."
Keep in mind that this was a few weeks before Obama's Meet the Press appearance in which he, for the first time, magnanimously allowed he may not finish his first senatorial term, but run for president in 2008.
The next "News Room" item on the senator's Web site comes from CBS News in Chicago and is from late September. It starts: "Some A-list celebrities now say U.S. Sen. Barack Obama is their presidential pick for 2008. Oprah Winfrey and Halle Berry have gone public urging him to run."
So the first two "News Room" articles (of three shown) reference a presidential candidacy. That's OK, but in recent days his saintly status, readily accorded him by a sycophantic press, has come into question.
Mr. Obama's relationship with wheeler-dealer Tony Rezko has surfaced. Mr. Rezko was recently indicted for alleged kickback schemes involving another other inspirational Illinois Democrat, Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Obama says he regrets a land deal he made with Rezko, even though he insists there was no impropriety.
Maybe there's not, but he needs to work on his story.
The senator told the Chicago Sun-Times he's known Tony Rezko for years, having lunch with him probably once or twice a year. When Obama decided to buy a $1.65 million mansion in Chicago last year, he approached Rezko who "developed an interest" and purchased adjoining land.
The closing on the properties took place the same day. The Obamas paid $300,000 less than the asking price; the Rezkos paid the full price. A few months later, Obama, wanting to increase the size of his backyard, bought a strip of Rezko's property for $104,500.
As the Sun-Times story noted: "The transaction occurred at a time when it was widely known Tony Rezko was under investigation by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and as other Illinois politicians befriended by Rezko distanced themselves from him."
The senator estimates that Mr. Rezko raised between $50,000 to $60,000 for Obama's campaign. Moreover, he personally gave the candidate $11,500, which the senator has since donated to charity.
Let me get this straight. You have lunch with a guy once or twice a year. When you decide to buy a mansion, he's the first person you contact so that he can "develop an interest." And he's under Federal investigation. Yeah, that sounds like someone you'd want to cozy up to.
Could it be – gasp! – that Oprah's designated president isn't quite ready for prime time? Another augury of that occurred within the past few days. Campaigning for a white senatorial candidate in Maryland running against a black man, Mr. Obama urged an audience not to vote according to race: "You don't vote for somebody because of what they look like. You vote for somebody because of what they stand for."
That is eminently logical. What wasn't logical happened two days later as Illinois' gift to the nation campaigned for a black senatorial candidate in Tennessee. At a black church he declared: "I know that all of you are going to work the next couple of days to make sure it happens, because I'm feeling lonely in Washington." His words, given the audience and circumstances, sharply conflicted with what he'd said in Maryland.
The senator needs to conjure up a more satisfactory explanation of his Rezko relationship. He needs to avoid being overtly inconsistent, at least within a two-day time frame. He needs to stop "trying to decide what our core values are," as he said last year, and actually come up with tangible core values rather than platitudes.
And he needs to do all that fairly soon. Campaign 2008 is about to commence. Whether we want it to or not.
This Michael M. Bates column appeared in the November 9, 2006 Reporter Newspapers.