Saturday, November 01, 2008

Making a Senator

In January 2003, state senator BO approached his mentor, Senate President Emil Jones and presented him with an intriguing offer.

“You can make the next U.S. Senator.”

“Wow, that sounds good! Got anybody in mind?” Dumb question.

“Yes, me.”

Here is how Obama’s political Godfather punched Obama’s ticket to Washington.

Jones is described, but not named, in BO’s Dreams of my Father as “an old ward-heeler who made the mistake of backing one of the white politicians in the last mayoral election.” Jones was a product of Chicago’s patronage system, first hired as a sewer cleaner, then moving up the ladder based more on who he knew and who he kissed up to than any actual ability. Today, Jones still takes care of his own. His son landed a $57k job in the Illinois Department of Commerce last April, in spite of lacking the required college degree. Jones’ stepson got a sweetheart deal for his tech firm Synch-Solutions when Emil lined up a $700,000 contract for the state budget office. At Jones’ request, Governor Blagojevich, a Democrat ally of Jones, rescinded the requirement that the director of mental health at the state’s Department of Human Services be a medical doctor, allowing Jones wife to take the job, paying $186,000, an $80k raise over her previous salary. State Representative Jack Franks, Democratic chairman of the House State Government Administration Committee attacked Jones cronyism as the “Friends and Family Plan.”

Jones prepared BO to run for Senate by “bill-jacking” popular legislation from other legislators just before it would pass, and assigning it to BO so that he could claim credit for bills which he had virtually no involvement with. State Senator Ricky Hendon was author and chief sponsor of two such bills, one requiring that interrogations of murder cases be recorded, and the other to reduce the incidence of racial profiling by the police. Emil Jones took these bills from Hendon and reassigned them to BO on the day they were due for a vote. BO often speaks of these bills as if they were his own babies. Hendon told a reporter, Todd Spivak that “no one wants to carry the ball ninety-nine yards all the way to the one-yard line, and then give it to the halfback who gets all the credit and the stats in the record book.”

In 1998, Jones gave BO a popular piece of legislation, also on the day it was up for final passage. The bill barred political fundraising on state property and barred lobbyists and contractors from giving gifts to legislators. One little-noticed provision in that bill allowed for Legislators to keep any money in their campaign fund when they retired, provided that amount of money had been in their campaign fund in 1998. That little loophole, pushed through by Emil Jones with the help of his dupe, BO, allowed Jones to retire with a $578,000 “bonus” last year. So much for stamping out corruption.

Jones placed BO as chairman of the senate’s health committee, which put him in charge of legislation that affected the Service Employees International Union, with more than 100,000 members in Illinois. Biographer David Mendell says that from that position, “Obama carried SEIU’s water” in Springfield on a number of issues. He increased SEIU hospital workers benefits and even forced hospitals to post union staffing level statistics on the Internet in an effort to bully hospitals into hiring more union employees. As a result, SEIU endorsed BO for Senate, an important development because most other unions endorsed his opponents.

Another way Jones helped Obama was to give him a free pass on more controversial issues, allowing him to avoid nasty debates. BO voted “present” 130 times while serving in the state Senate. Other senators would not be permitted to do such a thing, but Jones looked the other way for BO.

BO’s election to the Senate was mainly a result of the assistance of a corrupt Democrat Senate Leader, combined with a good measure of luck. In the primaries, BO was up against several Democrat rivals: Dan Hynes, State Comptroller, Gery Chico, Daley’s chief of staff, liberal talk show host Nancy Skinner, and eccentric multi-millionaire Blair Hull. Hynes seemed like the clear leader, except that Hull poured $28.7 million of his own money into the primary, blanketing the state in television and internet advertising. The media saturation dragged Hynes down to a second-place tie with BO. Just two weeks from the election Hull was more than ten points up over Hynes and BO. Then the Tribune released Hull’s divorce files, including testimony from Hull’s ex-wife that he “hung on the canopy of my bed, leered at me and stated ‘Do you want to die? I’m going to kill you.’.” Apparently the Tribune got those records from BO’s advisor, David Axelrod. By primary day, Hull had sunk to 10 points, but Hull’s $28 million had pulled Hynes down with him, so BO was the only one left standing.

That left BO to face Jack Ryan in the general election. No one knows how Ryan’s divorce file was made public, but it happened on June 22, 2004. His ex-wife described Jack taking her to sex clubs featuring whips and cages, and making her cry by pressuring her to have sex in public. By Washington standards it was rather dull. After all, it was his own wife. But for a young politician beginning his career, it was fatal. Ryan was forced to relinquish the nomination, leaving the Republicans scrambling to find a replacement in the last weeks of the campaign. They finally dredged up Alan Keyes, a perennial all-purpose candidate who was particularly ill-suited for this race. Obama wrote that Keyes was “an ideal opponent; all I had to do was keep my mouth shut and start planning my swear-in ceremony.”

Keyes went on to lose by the largest margin in Illinois history. As Obama described it, “My campaign had gone so well that it looked like a fluke.” Maybe it was. But the result is that BO was propelled to national star status without ever being tested in a real election. He has never had to get down and throw elbows or be the bad guy. And he has never had to campaign on a record of ideas or accomplishments, either. David Mendell described BO as “an idealized candidate unsullied by political competition.” This may be the first time a major party candidate has run for President having never before had a serious election challenge from the other party.

Once BO was elected to the US Senate, he returned the favor to his Godfather. In 2007 he obtained $11 million in earmarks for Chicago State University, a pet project of Emil Jones. The university kicked back $55k to Jones in contributions from its trustees, foundation directors, and administrators. BO also rejected calls to get involved in passing an ethics bills which Jones was blocking in Illinois which are very similar to the reforms he called for in the U.S. Senate.

BO presents himself as a reformer, a shining beacon of change and hope floating above the squalor of "old" politics. But the reality is that BO is a product of the corrupt, incestuous morass of the worst of the old style politics, and he has done nothing to repudiate that corrupt machine. On the contrary, he has reached his current position not by offering new ideas or working on behalf of the citizens, but by working the machine for his own benefit.

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