Corruption to the left of him. Corruption to the right of him. Corruption right in front of him. Yet in spite of all this, Howard Fineman of Newsweek maintains that Barack Obama has been somehow hermetically sealed off from Chicago corruption throughout his political career. Fineman is merely echoing the premise currently being promoted by much of the media in his Newsweek article about Illinois governor Rod Blagovech and Jesse Jackson, Jr.. Fineman starts out by hinting that Jesse Jackson, Jr. was corruptible (emphasis mine):
What I know about the South Side of Chicago I know not from Barack Obama, but from Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. In the summer of 1997, I spent two days with him there. He was in his second term representing the area. He was fond of it, but the real message I got from him was: I want to be in the Loop, literally.
The son of the civil-rights leader had attended St. Albans School in Washington and gone on to earn a law degree. He of course knew the history of the movement, and revered it. He admired his dad, whom he called "The Rev." But it was clear that Junior hungered for proximity to established money and power.
He told me about the time that friends in the business world had taken him downtown for a tour of the Federal Reserve's branch on LaSalle Street. He had been ushered into the inner sanctum and shown the real stuff: bundled stacks of Benjamins.
Jackson laughed at the memory, but clearly was impressed. That was real clout, he said. That was the way the world really worked.
I thought of Junior's trip to the bank when I read U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's charges against Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. And I thought of Junior when I noted the suggestion, made by ABC News, that Junior was "candidate no. 5" in Fitzgerald's criminal complaint. On that candidate's behalf, prosecutors claim, "emissaries" allegedly offered to raise major cash for Blagojevich. In exchange, the prosecutors say, Blago was willing to name that candidate to fill Obama's suddenly vacant U.S. Senate seat.
From suggesting that Jesse Jackson, Jr. could be corrupted, Fineman then goes on to assert that Obama was able to remain simon pure while all the Chicago corruption swirled around him because he was lucky enough not to remain in any elected position long enough to be corrupted:
Among Obama's many gifts are luck—and a knack for not staying long enough in any one place to be corrupted by the local culture. Luckily for him, the world economy is falling apart, which meant that he was too busy learning about credit default swaps to worry about who he wanted to replace him in his U.S. Senate seat from Illinois.
More important, Obama managed to be allied with, but not really captured by, a host of Chicago and Illinois factions. There are virtues in having a relatively short career, especially if you have to spend it in the gamey Land of Lincoln.
When Obama did choose sides, he chose early and wisely, thanks, serendipitously, to his wife's ties. He joined the Daley Family team—Mayor Richie and Brother Bill. And he kept a certain distance from Blagojevich, who by all accounts had become the worst of the worst—trading his early reformist label for harsh pay-to-play tactics, and a lunatic disregard for what the Feds were up to. (Blagojevich's office issued a general statement saying his arrest would have "no impact" on the people of Illinois, and that all business would continue.)
Huh? Obama kept a certain distance from Blagojevich? Fineman then contradicts this assertion in his very next paragraph:
My sense is that there isn't much Blago can do to damage Obama. Yes, Obama was an early supporter and adviser in 2002, when Blago first ran for governor and Obama was positioning himself to run for U.S. Senate in 2004. Yes, Obama allies Rahm Emanuel and David Wilhelm (but not David Axelrod) did work on that campaign. But Obama had the sense to keep his distance—and he essentially got out of town before Blago went wild.
Sorry, Howard, but working as an adviser to Blagojevich when he was running for governor does not strike your humble correspondent as keeping his distance.