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.