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The age of cronyism

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POSTED: December 29, 2008 10:10 a.m.
The three most prominent Democrats in national politics during the past two years — Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton — are all ascending from the U.S. Senate to the executive branch, creating open Senate seats for Democratic governors to fill.
And, oh, what a spectacle it is — of corruption, insider dealing, treacly dynastic politics and rank nepotism. The tidal wave of change turns out to leave a brackish aftertaste in its wake.
We might be witnessing the most brazen bout of cronyism since Napoleon made his relatives and minions rulers of conquered Europe. Or at least since the Kennedy family arranged in 1960 to have John Kennedy’s pliable Harvard roommate keep his Massachusetts Senate seat warm until Ted turned 30 and could inherit — er, get elected to — it.
If the recent Senate maneuverings are any indication, the “new politics” of the Obama Democrats is convenient cover while they take care of their own as the powerful have always done down through the ages.
Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has been diagnosed from afar as a sociopath for his fulsomely profane musings about selling Obama’s seat.
But once the shock of his grasping crudity passes, one wonders if he didn’t have a point: Why should he have appointed “Senate Candidate 1” — Obama confidante Valerie Jarrett — “for nothing”? Out of public-spiritedness?
As Mae West said in one of her movies when someone exclaimed to her, “Goodness, what beautiful diamonds!”: “Goodness had nothing to do with it.”
Similarly, public-spiritedness had nothing to do with jockeying over the Illinois seat.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Obama’s chief of staff-designate, Rahm Emanuel, pressed Blagojevich to appoint Jarrett and do it by a date certain.
Her chief qualification for becoming one of the 100 members of the country’s most august legislative body was service to the Obamas. Emanuel was therefore asking Blagojevich to do an enormous favor for an Obama insider, and Blagojevich’s Chicago sensibilities were offended at the prospect of quid for no quo. Team Obama wanted its cronyism for free!
In New York, meanwhile, Caroline Kennedy offers herself as the appointee for the Senate seat being vacated by Hillary Clinton. She has honorably upheld the family name with Kennedy-related books (“The Best-Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis”) and activities (the Profiles in Courage Award), augmented by Manhattan charitable work.
Heretofore, whatever their other merits, fundraising for the American Ballet Theatre and the Fund for Public Schools has not been considered the proving ground for high office, yet some of the same liberal pundits who were hell on Sarah Palin for her lack of experience are taken with Kennedy.
How silly the Alaska governor must feel: To think running for office was the best way to build a political career, when what she needed was fashionable charitable causes and a storied last name.
Back in a debate during the Democratic Senate primary in 1962 in Massachusetts, Edward McCormack turned to Ted Kennedy and observed: “If his name was Edward Moore, with his qualifications — with your qualifications, Teddy, your candidacy would be a joke.” The joke never grows old.
The Kennedy mystique defines politicians of Joe Biden’s generation. Biden didn’t become the next JFK when his 1988 presidential campaign flared out, but he’s managed to re-enact the 1960 caper with his own Delaware Senate seat. He arranged for the appointment of his factotum, longtime aide Edward Kaufman, who can be trusted to do the right thing with the seat. Namely, step aside when Biden’s son Beau, the state’s attorney general, returns from service with the National Guard in Iraq to claim his due inheritance when the seat is up in 2010.
If anyone cared what about happens in Delaware, Biden’s tawdry dealing would be a national scandal. Or if there weren’t so much other tawdriness competing for attention. The era of new politics is the same Vanity Fair as the old — “all that is there sold, or that cometh thither, is vanity.”

Lowry is editor of the National Review.
 

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