Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The character issue

Thomas Sowell has a column today that takes a closer look at the character issue and some of the friends and supporters of Barack Obama:
Critics of Senator Barack Obama make a strategic mistake when they talk about his "past associations." That just gives his many defenders in the media an opportunity to counter-attack against "guilt by association."

We all have associations, whether at the office, in our neighborhood or in various recreational activities. Most of us neither know nor care what our associates believe or say about politics.

Associations are very different from alliances. Allies are not just people who happen to be where you are or who happen to be doing the same things you do. You choose allies deliberately for a reason. The kind of allies you choose says something about you.
Specific characters raised by Sowell include Jeremiah Wright, Bill Ayers and Antoin Rezko. Wright is of course notorious for his comments that the U.S. has itself to blame for the 9/11 attacks as well as his utterance of "God damn America." More of his comments can be found here. This is how wikipedia describes the relationship between Obama and Wright:
Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee for President, first met Wright and joined his church in the late 1980s, while he was working as a community organizer in Chicago before attending Harvard Law School.[25] Wright officiated at the wedding ceremony of Barack and Michelle Obama, as well as their children's baptism.[5] The title of Obama's memoir, The Audacity of Hope, was inspired by one of Wright's sermons.[25][5]

Wright was scheduled to give the public invocation before Obama's presidential announcement, but Obama withdrew the invitation the night before the event.[26] Wright wrote a rebuttal letter to the editor disputing the characterization of the account as reported in an article in The New York Times.[27]

In 2007 Wright was appointed to Barack Obama's African American Religious Leadership Committee, a group of over 170 national black religious leaders who supported Obama's bid for the Democratic nomination;[28] however, it was announced in March 2008 that Wright was no longer serving as a member of this group.[29]
Say what you will, it is hard to describe the relationship as that of a casual aquiantance. Then we have Tony Rezko. You can read the full story of that relationship, but some highlights include:
* Obama took a job with a law firm in which he helped Rezko's firm gain $43 million in government funding.

* On July 31, 1995 the first ever political contributions to Obama were $300 from a lawyer, a $5,000 loan from a car dealer, and $2,000 from two food companies owned by Rezko.

* Starting in 2003, Rezko was one of the people on Obama's U.S. Senate campaign finance committee, which raised more than $14 million.

* Obama wrote a letter to various government officials supporting a low-income senior citizen development project headed by Rezko that ended up receiving $14 million in taxpayer funds. Obama states that this was done purely out of concern for the people that would live in this project and that there wasn't any pressure from Rezko.
Rezko was convicted on several counts of fraud and bribery earlier this year.

Lastly there is Bill Ayers, founder of the Weather Underground that carried out bombings of the US Capitol and Pentagon. Obama launched his political career at Ayers's house and the two served together on a board that donated tens of thousands of dollars to some pet causes sponsored by Ayers. You can watch a CNN video about this here.

Sowell bases much of his column on the best-selling book by David Freddoso entitled "The Case Against Barack Obama." About two weeks ago I attended a panel discussion about the presidential race in which Freddoso spoke about his book and Barack Obama. One of Freddoso's chief arguments against Obama is not that he is evil or hates America, it's that he exercises profoundly bad judgement. Indeed, Obama either has extremely bad luck in choosing who he befriends and associates with or he is severely deficient in his ability to judge character. If he has problems judging people from his hometown of Chicago, how is he going to be able to accurately assess foreign leaders that he deals with as president?

But perhaps we should regard Obama's choice of political friends as unsurprising. Given just how corrupt the city's politics maybe it is just a fact of life that your circle of supporters will include a few unsavory characters. This, however, leads to another one of Freddoso's chief criticisms. Obama has spoken much of his pledge to bring change and clean up Washington. But how can we take such a vow seriously when Obama never made any attempt to clean up the politics of his hometown? Not only was he passive on the reform front, he actively supported the status quo and the Daley political machine.

Are these the hallmarks of a reformer? Are these the characteristics of someone we wish to see in the White House?

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