Electability and the Big Question Mark

Yesterday, Kate wrote a great post about "Electability," and refusing to base her vote on the fear of bigots:

Somebody's got to go first. And without wanting to rule Edwards out prematurely, the way things are looking right now, somebody will be going first this year, whether it's a black man or a white woman. Which means bigotry and hatred are going to be inescapable, defining issues throughout this campaign and -- if all goes well -- throughout our next president's term(s) in office. We can't avoid that. It will not go away if we just wait a little longer to vote for a person of color and/or a woman. Whoever goes first, whenever it happens, will have a hard and lonely road to walk. That's the problem with voters having clearly based their decisions on race and gender for over 200 years, even if we're only getting around to talking about "identity politics" now.
Couldn't agree more. There is, however, an interesting flipside to the electability issue, as it relates specifically to Clinton and Obama.

I've noted a few times previously that one of Clinton's biggest positives as a candidate is that she's been vetted from here to Planet Unicorn and back again; there aint' nuttin' new under the sun that the rightwing and/or the national media can dig up on her at this point. It's just going to be the same old shit over and over ad infinitum, and, frankly, I'm not sure how much more mileage they're going to get out of ancient conspiracy theories about having Vince Foster killed. "Hillary's a girl and probably has cooties" is about the best they've got—and, as we've now seen, that only stands to help her.

(Sure, there are quite legitimate grounds on which to object to Clinton on policy grounds, but you don't expect the media to start discussing policy, now, do you?)

But while Hillary's been given a sustained colonoscopy by the press corps for 15 years, Obama's still largely an unknown quantity. The truth is, he's probably had less scrutiny than even most senate candidates, because the Illinois GOP was such a clusterfuck in 2004 that the state Democrats could have run a bag of rancid garbanzo beans and won.

Obama's original opponent was the winner of the Republican primary, Jack Ryan, who subsequently dropped out of the race after child custody divorce records containing embarrassing sex allegations were made public. After Ryan's withdrawal, the GOP scrambled, only to come up with the carpetbagging Alan Keyes as an opponent, with less than three months to go before the election. The typical Illinois Republican is not the same brand as Keyes; the few who were ideologically well-matched with him largely had no idea who he was.

Obama won in a landslide, with comparatively little scrutiny. The state media was more focused on Ryan's salacious sex scandal. (During the Democratic primary, they'd been more focused on his primary rival's domestic abuse scandal.) The state GOP's attention was elsewhere for most of the election; their opposition research on him was absolutely nothing compared to what the national machine's diggers will unearth.

And now that he's won one primary, guess what?

In sharp contrast to his tough talk about ethics reform in government, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., approached a well-known Illinois political fixer under active federal investigation, Antoin "Tony" Rezko, for "advice" as he sought to find a way to buy a house shortly after being elected to the United States Senate.

…Obama maintains his relationship with Rezko was "above board and legal" but has admitted bad judgment, calling his decision to involve Rezko "a bone-headed mistake."
All I can tell you is that for those of us familiar with Illinois politics, the name Tony Rezko has approximately the same quality as "Bernard Kerik."

Jeff Dinelli's got more on Rezko, and notes: "Tony Rezko stories go on and on within the always exciting stories of shady Chicago politics. They're not going away, as the ABC-TV story above indicates. For years they have tarnished Obama's squeaky-clean image in Illinois." Also see Taylor Marsh, with Let the Vetting Begin and About Obama's Lobbyist Co-Chair… There's also local stuff like this, into which the national media hasn't even begun yet to dig. And that's just a taste of what's to come.

To be clear, I am categorically not implying that Obama is dirty, or even, to borrow from Gertrude Stein, that there's a there there; I mean only to point out that there could be any number of things waiting to blow up in his face (and ours)—real or fashioned out of whole cloth. The media doesn't care which. (Through how many interminable non-scandals has Clinton been?) It's the Big Question Mark, the void that will be filled in ways we cannot know. I keep remembering the report that the Democrats were "holding fire" on Huckabee unless and until he gets his party's nomination—at which point they will unleash a torrent of oppo-research on him to bring him down. I have a decidedly sick feeling that the GOP is doing the same w/ Obama—only they're not stupid enough to say it publicly.

Every time someone points out how great the media coverage of Obama has been thus far, I feel a creeping sense of "famous last words" crawling up my spine. It makes me incredibly nervous, if I'm perfectly honest, to consider having such an untested candidate as a national nominee. Thanks to the national news desk every wire service has had set up in her colon for half my life, we know a lot more about Hillary Clinton than we do about Barack Obama.

And while there's an undeniable unfairness to the media's panting, slavering eagerness to follow even the most scurrilous of leads if they sniff a scandal, there's a legitimate need for rigorous vetting during a presidential campaign, too—so, unlike voting as a response to bigotry, this issue doesn't quite leave the same room for the righteous fuckthatitude I'd like to give it.

I'm not saying it makes Obama unelectable; I'm saying it's an electability issue worth considering while we're still deciding who's going to top our ticket this year.

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