June 3, 2010

Obama, Sestak and "committing politics"

And they wonder why their approval ratings are so low?

When the White House enlisted former President Bill Clinton to see if Representative Joe Sestak would accept a presidential appointment to drop out of a Senate race, there is no question it was committing politics. But was it committing a crime?

The dispute surrounding the White House effort to nudge Mr. Sestak out of the Pennsylvania Democratic primary has once again cast a harsh light on the murky boundaries that govern American political life. When does ordinary horse trading cross a line? When does behavior that may violate sensibilities actually violate federal law?

This is one of those cases where supporters of the President will likely see nothing wrong and opponents of the President see it as one more instance of a supremely opaque administration.

Amazingly, we still don't know exactly what position the White House offered Sestak. He still has not given a full-throated denial that the position was Secretary of the Navy, although the White House has also denied that it offered Sestak a position on the Presidential Intelligence Advisory Board.

Sadly, this kind of "politics as usual" is all too common in modern American politics. As the report notes, former Presidents Bush, Clinton and Reagan all engaged in some form of this behavior.

But it doesn't matter what previous Presidents did, because Obama promised to usher in a "new kind of politics" and do away with these types of deals. And yet, here is President Obama, knee deep in "politics as usual." And the Sestak offer may not be the only one — a similar story is bubbling up in Colorado.

Will this result in criminal or ethics charges? Unlikely. Will it hurt Obama's political standing? It already has.