Sunday, December 24, 2006

Tribune's silly obsession with the Obama-Rezko connection could be turned into something more useful

I'm convinced that at least half of the reason that Chicago has the reputation for politics more scandalous than other parts of the country is because scandal is drummed up by the local media. Rags like the Tribune and the Sun-Times use the language of "appearances" of corruption and guilt by association to imply that which is most sinister.

Witness the Tribune's current efforts to hang the sign of a man named Antoin Rezko on Senator Barack Obama. Rezko was involved in some state government scandals, and the Tribune has since decided to impute Obama based on association. Their most recent implication is that Obama's office gave a college student an internship as a favor to Rezko, who appears to be a family friend of this intern. Obama's office is of course cornered into denying that Obama has ever done any favors for Rezko. Honestly, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the intern got her job through Rezko, not because Obama is uniquely bereft of an ethical compass but because that's how internships generally work on the Hill.

Perhaps the Tribune could use its considerable but dwindling resources for reportage to cover the more interesting angle of how internships are ferreted out in Washington. The current thought is that these relatively inconsequential jobs would serve as good reward for loyal (and big) donors to the Congressman. I don't think there is anything wrong with hiring someone loyal to a candidate-- a campaign worker, for instance, is a natural choice to fill a post-election job--but the kin of a big donor is someone who has gotten a job entirely because of blood association to wealth.

This leads to what I see as a larger problem of entitlement by some of the wealthy and well-connected in our society. It is revolting when people get jobs or admissions to college because of their family connections. My revulsion is directed not just at the party who is doing the admitting but also at the donor expecting a quid pro quo. If you donate to a university or candidate, it should be out of belief in the institution or the cause, not to tip the scales in favor of your child. From what I have heard from people who have worked in admissions at colleges, it is general policy to give a big donor's black sheep kin the benefit of the doubt. Such practices reconcile us all to playing the game, "networking," valuing superficial connections over merit and repeating the mantra that this is just how things work. Wouldn't it be nice though if some of these privelged people could lead from the top and not expect special treatment for their children?


Bill Baar said...

Rezko took an early interest in Obama's career back in 1990 and has donated $60,000 to his campaigns over the years.

Obama's donated the $11,000 given to Federal campaigns to charity now.

That says something.

Elaine said...

The whole thing is small potatoes compared to letting energy industry reps sit in on an energy policy meeting to help make the policy. I too think it says something that Obama gave back the money--he realized Rezko was a shady character. It seems like any smart politician--and Obama is that--understands that the benefits of association with a guy like Rezko is not worth the costs.
The whole thing seems to me an attempt by the local media to show that Obama is not perfect. It has early hints of the stupid Whitewater non-scandal that ate up a lot more newstime than it was worth, since Hillary and Bill Clinton were both exonerated and it was such a small thing to begin with. This is when I hate the media: when they're too busy going after piddly stories and miss the big ones.

Anonymous said...

This story just goes to show that no one can make it in Illinois politics without being tainted by corruption. This case will only be the tip of the iceberg in Obama's questionable associations.