“Come in, Obama…”

Got back late last night from a quick drive up and back to Pennsylvania. As I mentioned I would be doing, I had a brief interview with Barack Obama while on the road Friday. Unfortunately, since I was entering mountains near the North Carolina/Virginia border, it was briefer than either of us anticipated.

One thing I know for sure is that he is a polite man for a big shot. The last word I heard from him amid the crackling was a puzzled, "Sir…?" as I faded out. (I’ve tried to imagine, say, John Kerry being that polite. I can’t.)

But I certainly appreciate the effort on his part, and the campaign aides who labored first to establish, then to re-establish, the connection.

Now, what were we talking about? We were talking about his proposals for cleaning up the executive branch of the federal government. I found the proposal — I had received a 12-page PDF in advance — to be thoughtful, principled and fairly comprehensive. (And I would have posted it in advance, but it was embargoed then. It no longer is.)

A lot of the 12 pages went into modest detail on the sins in this regard of the Bush administration. So cynics might dismiss it as a way of saying once again to the Democratic primary base, We all know how wicked the Bushies have been; well, I won’t be like that at all!

But let me defend the senator against that charge on two counts. He didn’t make this stuff up; there are plenty of actual ethical sins for this administration to answer for. Secondly, these are perfectly sound things to promise to do.

In a way, the proposals are probably a bit boring to most people: So you’re going to be a good steward and avoid corruption? Well, isn’t that what you’re supposed to do? Shouldn’t that be the default position?

But I think the candidate deserves credit for his proposals to actively pursue integrity in his administration. It’s less "I promise not to steal the spoons," and more, "here’s how I’m going to keep the spoons safe."

I am reminded of the way Jimmy Carter promised to clean up government, post-Watergate. And I mean that in a good way. The pursuit of virtue and honor in government were what I liked best about Jimmy. But I am reminded of an anecdote I heard about the days after Carter’s 1976 election victory. One of his people met with South Carolina supporters to thank them for their efforts in the campaign, and to say that any hiring for administration positions would be handled in an open, above-board and merit-based way. There would be no jobs handed out "in smoke-filled rooms."

One of the South Carolinians — an African-American officeholder, something you need to know to make full sense of the comment — protested, "But I just got in the room, and I just started smoking." (This is a certain person known as a bit of a wag, so he probably wouldn’t mind my using his name in connection with this third-hand account — I’ll ask him about it next time I see him and check the story before I do that, though.)

Anyway, I was starting to tell that story to Obama, and to ask whether he’d gotten any pushback from supporters or other Democrats saying they didn’t like such promises as this:

Barack Obama will issue an Executive Order asking all new hires at the agencies to sign a form affirming that no political appointee offered them the job solely on the basis of political affiliation or contribution. The Executive Order will also require that all employees engaged in and making hiring decisions also certify that they will not take political affiliation into account as they make hiring decisions for career positions.

Of course, it hit me as I was asking about this that that sort of thing is more likely to come up in the general election — or right after a victory, when you’re dealing with "supporters" who are not necessarily True Believers in your ideals. But I thought I’d ask anyway.

I was in the middle of that convoluted question when we lost the connection.

Anyway, I’ve linked above to the entire position paper. Here it is again. It’s a PDF. Let me know if you have trouble reading it, and I’ll post it as plain text. Let me know if you have any questions I should ask him about it, and I’ll try to work them in next time I speak to him.

9 thoughts on ““Come in, Obama…”

  1. Paul DeMarco

    I get the same sense as you that Obama is a decent human being and I appreciate his focus on ethical hiring.
    I have a question for him, although it’s not on the current subject: next time you talk, ask him why he didn’t propose a single payer health care system and how he plans to control costs with his market-based plan.
    It would be interesting to know if he really believes in his plan or if his consultants convinced him that single-payer was too politically risky. I’m guessing the latter, which is too bad.
    I think single payer would have set him apart and may have helped him. He would be the only viable candidate proposing single payer, which leads most opinion polls as the preferred solution to the problem of the uninsured.

  2. Hal Jordan

    Ha ha ha! Obama stakes out a position saying, no more Monica Goodlings, no more Bradley Schlozmans, no more Deputy Attorney Generals from Remedial (sorry, Regent) University Law School, a position that is basically throwing red meat to the base, and the only thing Brad can think to ask is if he is getting any pushback from supporters on it! No wonder Obama hung up on him (sorry, “lost the connection”).
    No, Obama hasn’t gotten any pushback, and he’s not going to. This is Obama’s response to one of the most horrifying stories to come out of the Bush Administration, and all supporters of Obama, Clinton, Edwards, Richardson, etc., all endorse Obama’s position with all their hearts.
    What’s shocking is that the position has to be articulated at all. Obama shouldn’t NEED to issue an executive order affirming that practice, because the law already provides that political considerations are not to enter into hiring decisions for career civil servants.
    So no, Obama’s supporters are not going to push back against his statement that:
    a) merely states that if elected he, unlike his predecessor, will follow the law
    b) promises to do what they fervently wish him to do
    One thing I found particularly interesting was this:
    “Anyway, I was starting to tell that story to Obama”
    Ideally, an interview shouldn’t consist of the interviewer telling stories to the interviewee. Eventually, Brad is going to come to understand that Obama doesn’t want to hear his stories, and after that happens we’re going to start hearing how supercilious and pompous Obama is. Just watch and wait.

  3. Weldon VII

    So Barack Obama writes that political favors would not taint hiring in his administration, or at least that everyone would be required to swear so in writing.
    Who on Earth would be so naive as to believe such a thing? Why would anyone think such a statement had any meaning whatsoever other than to show how stupid Obama thinks voters are?

  4. Hal Jordan

    Yeah, Weldon, Obama did write that political favors would not taint hiring in his administration. I mean, that was the law up to now, and it’s still the law, and will continue to be the law in the future. Other administrations have managed to follow the law, and I think Obama sees this administration’s systematic violation of the law as an ugly chapter in our nation’s history, not as an example to be followed.
    Maybe in doubting Obama’s aility to adhere to the principles on which our nation was founded, and which we have managed to follow for hundreds of years, you are simply projecting your own failings onto him? But you shouldn’t do that unless you can point to some evidence that Obama isn’t a better man than you are. I don’t think you can.

  5. Weldon VII

    Obama may be better than I am, Hal. But what administration managed to do all its hiring without repaying one political favor? Who could be human and completely avoid human nature? How could anyone respect such an unfulfillable promise as the one Obama made?

  6. Wally Altman

    Thanks for linking that PDF, Brad. It was a good read, and makes me feel even more strongly that Obama is the right man for the job this time around.
    Weldon, I have to agree with “Hal” here. Obama hasn’t promised the impossible, but only that which we should expect from anyone who wants to be President.

  7. bud

    I like Obama too but political promises don’t mean much. The current president promised to be a uniter and not a divider. He promised not to engage in nation building. These are two of the most flagrantly broken promises any presidential candidate has ever made.

  8. jb1125

    Obama has championed ethics reform for a long time.
    Obama has made ethics reform a central part of his political career. Two years into his first term in the U.S. Senate, he has had limited opportunities to leave a mark at the federal level, especially as a member of the minority party. But he has worked with Republicans on new good-government laws. He co-sponsored one, signed in September, that will create a federal spending database so Web users can track all grants, loans and awards greater than $25,000. He also pushed to limit the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s authority to award open-ended, no-bid contracts in the wake of major disasters — a reaction to post-Katrina abuses. More to the point, last year Senate Democrats tapped Obama as the chief negotiator for their caucus in talks over post-Abramoff ethics reforms, though those negotiations faltered. Ethics reform was one of Obama’s signature issues in Springfield, as well. Beyond the Gift Ban Act, he helped push Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s 2003 ethics reforms. The gift ban law, the first broad ethics reform in Illinois since the Watergate era, prohibited politicians from using campaign funds for personal use, barred fundraising on state property, established ethics commissions, curtailed fundraisers in Springfield during legislative sessions and mandated online reporting of campaign finances. The 2003 ethics package created independent inspectors general with subpoena powers to look into abuses by legislators, statewide officeholders and their employees. It further clamped down on the types of gifts lawmakers can receive and prohibited lobbyists and their spouses from sitting on state boards and commissions. Obama also touted publicly financed judicial campaigns, an idea that was approved by the Illinois Senate but languished in the House.

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