Obama vs. McCain 2008: Round 15: Political Corruption

This is the fifteenth of a weekly series of public forums on TMB. Watch for a new round every Monday.

This week’s forum topic is timely considering the recent makeover of McCain-Palin as the mavericks who will take on political corruption.

What do you think? Which candidate is best suited to fight political corruption in Washington?

Next week: Cindy McCain vs. Michelle Obama

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18 Responses

  1. […] Posts Obama vs. McCain: Round 15: Political CorruptionJon Stewart Takes on GOP Hypocrites Concerning Sarah Palin’s Experience, Pregnant Daughter, and […]

  2. OK, I know that Democrats and Republicans are both corrupt. I’m not pretending to be oblivous to that fact.

    It’s just that when I hear the word “corruption,” the first two words that pop into my mind in light of what we’ve heard in the news the past few days, are: “earmarks” and “Palin.”

    But I suppose Palin is a “changed woman.” Talk about being “born again” overnight. And I mean “overnight” quite literally since it appears that’s how much time McCain took to make her his pick. :)

  3. Another word that comes to my mind is “Tony Rezko”.

    Obama grew up in the corrupt political machine of Chicago. Did he work to fight and eliminate the corruption there? Absolutely not. His own political progress was more important to him than cleaning up the system, so he allied himself with whatever corrupt power brokers he had to to get ahead.

    Palin’s situation with her brother-in-law is pretty shady. But her record of fighting corruption despite the political risk gives her an edge over Obama.

    McCain’s situation in the Keating Five is pretty shady as well. Of course the verdict was that he was minimally involved, and his involvement was not the result of shady motives.

    A similar situation with integrity is Biden’s blatant fabrication of his own biography.

    I don’t think anyone on this ticket is immune.

  4. Ryan,

    Well done. Admit McCain’s involvement in a scandal, but imply his motives were pure.

    Imply Obama’s corruption and imply his motive was ambition.

    Catch Biden in something on his resume. Assume Troopergate for Palin is outweighed by her going after other politicians.

    I don’t think any one of the four is corrupt. I really don’t, and I don’t think you do either. I mean we are not talking Harding or Nixon, for example. However, I don’t think Palin has been fully vetted yet regarding possible abuses of power. Probably nothing too serious there, but, as I said, she hasn’t been vetted.

    I’ve lived in Chicagoland, and despite its fearsome reputation, I have found San Diego, where I now live, to be at least as corrupt, including the local GOP congressman now in jail. Now there was a corrupt guy.

  5. I tend to think that McCain’s strong support for campaign finance reform stems from his screw-up with the Keating Five. I think he really regrets it and overcompensates to make up for it. (I don’t like the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law by the way – most conservatives don’t – score one for the maverick, he’ll stick it to his own party if he thinks it is best for the country).

    Of the four Palin has the superior record against political corruption. She made a political career of fighting corruption within her own party. Obama has the worst record, rather than fight corruption in his own party he used it to advance his political career. If the election doesn’t work out for McCain-Palin then maybe we should send her to Chicago to clean up things there…

    Off-Topic – Are you really discussing Cindy vs Michelle next week? Why? That doesn’t seem like it fits in the rest of the political topics.

  6. Aluwid

    Off-Topic – Are you really discussing Cindy vs Michelle next week? Why? That doesn’t seem like it fits in the rest of the political topics.

    There really wasn’t a particular reason for the timing, but I wanted to have a week where we discussed the potential first ladies. Do you have a problem with the topic in general, or do you just think next week is a bad time to do it?

  7. I know that it’s not everything, but Obama’s commitment to not be funded by federal lobbyists is not trivial.

    McCain/Palin may have had records regarding fighting corruption (as well as other shady things in their records, to be sure), but I distrust their agenda considering how much funding they receive from federal lobbyists.

    At any rate, the fact that Obama has ALREADY put this into action is significant. He is the first major presidential candidate (in a long time, anyway, if I am not mistaken) to do so. This is not just talk and not just promises.

  8. “Do you have a problem with the topic in general, or do you just think next week is a bad time to do it?”

    My question related to the topic itself, not the timing. It just didn’t seem like it fit with the other political topics. I wonder what the signal to noise ratio will be in that conversation.

  9. Dennis,

    Per factcheck.org: “In fact, donations from PACs and lobbyists make up less than 1.7 percent of McCain’s total receipts, and they account for only about 1.1 percent of the RNC’s receipts. ”


    I never got the whole anti-lobbyist argument and tended to favor Senator Clinton’s side of the discussion during the Democratic Primaries. Either way, the monetary difference due to Obama’s policy is very small.

    Regarding lobbyists – what are your thoughts on Biden’s son? Is that a problem for you?

    Similar topic, if you are worried about the effect that money has on elections then does Obama’s choice to opt out of public financing bother you? I know he likes to talk about all his small donations coming from lots of people, but he is also very dependent on large bundlers and fundraisers which gives them influence over him.

    Personally I don’t care if politicians accept public financing or not, I never check the $3 box on my tax return. The only thing of note for me is that Obama flip-flopped for political advantage. But other than that, I’d actually like to remove most restrictions on political donations so whether a candidate goes the public route or not isn’t very interesting to me.

  10. Leo: points well taken. Allow me to modify my position, if I may. I think you’re probably right – none of them have serious records of corruption, and indeed, Palin hasn’t been vetted as well as the others. It was probably wrong of me to speculate on Obama’s motives. Those are more gut feelings that I have, and since hard evidence doesn’t support them, they’re really not relevant.

    Dennis: I think the Michelle vs. Cindy idea is great for next week.

    Also, while I applaud Obama’s commitment about lobbyists, I don’t believe he is any more detached from special interests than is McCain. Obama has admitted that unions have had a serious influence in his political success, with the implication that he owes them something. This was evident in his withdrawal from probably the best bipartisan bill for immigration that we will ever get; he bowed out of it due to pressure from unions.

    Further, his continued support for corn ethanol subsidies (along with a bipartisan majority of Congress) is deeply disturbing to me.

    As for Aluwid’s comment about Obama and public financing: this kinda bothers me. Obama made a commitment. He broke the commitment. We all know why – probably any politician would have done the same thing in his position. But, given his lofty claims of being above politics, I guess I was a little disappointed at this first broken promise. Not a big deal I guess – certainly doesn’t affect my vote in any significant way.

  11. Both campaigns are a mixture of lofty idealism and political reality. It seems that each party must kowtow to part of its base and pander to certain groups. I found the last season of The West Wing particularly instructive in that regard. I am wondering how the McCain supporters feel about the way the Bush campaign treated McCain in the South Carolina 2000 primary. The Bush campaign won that critical contest by trashing the very man the same party now holds up as its candidate. Can a candidate win in America today on lofty idealism alone? Can a campaign win without going negative? Do we need a new electorate? I am wondering, with the economy in serious trouble, about Governor Romney and his good economic credentials. How do Romney fans feel about the Palin selection? Was it based on handling the faltering nation’s economy, on helping McCain with that task, putting the interests of the country first? Or was it based on political calculation, knowing that Palin could rally the evangelicals, while Romney couldn’t because of his religion.

    I have been impressed by Obama’s general reluctance to go negative and to generally avoid personal attacks, his quiet and thoughtful demeanor, his tendency, going back to his childhood, to try to be a reconciler and peacemaker, typified by the line in his acceptance speech about having the strength and the grace to bridge divides. I am impressed by his commitment to empower the powerless. The importance of his community organizing is that he favors a deep democracy and cares about a lot of communities that weren’t very well represented at the Republican National Convention and whose interests haven’t been well represented in the White House for eight long years.

  12. Aluwid,

    Good points. As I’ve discussed before (on this blog, but I can’t remember where), the impact of federal lobbyists is larger than their small percentage of donations.

    Indeed, we could ask, if it is such a low percentage, then why does McCain (as well as Hillary Clinton) not allow them? Surely it’s not worth the money, if for no other reason than to be able to say, “Actually, there’s no difference between Obama and me on the position of lobbyists.” This is an enormous issue that Obama makes and it has been significant in winning him, I believe, millions of supporters. Certainly the voters that McCain could appease by not accepting lobbyist money is more valuable than the money. Right?

    But it’s not all about money. It’s about being wedded to the lobbyists already, as well as the type of government that is heavily influenced by federal lobbyists. How many non-lobbyists are donating to McCain and the GOP because they are reaping the benefits of a lobbyist-influenced campaign? The fact that McCain accepts lobbyist money demonstrates that he cannot break from them. He has sold himself to the lobbyists, and this is a scary thing. I promise you that McCain (and Clinton for that matter) has not remained wedded to lobbyists on principle. It’s politics. If they could have, they would have broken from them because it would have dulled one of Obama’s major selling points. In this respect, they are in bondage to federal lobbyists. Obama is not.

    I agree with Ryan that Obama is not completely untethered from special interests (arguably this would be impossible); however, I think a good argument can be made that federal lobbyists are the worst evil. Just look at Dick Cheney and his connection to big oil lobbyists. I also question Ryan’s implication that Obama feels he “owes” the unions something.

    Regarding Biden’s son, I am not at all convinced that his son has played any serious impact in Biden’s policies. Having a relative who is a lobbyist is not the issue; being wedded to lobbyists is the issue.

    Regarding Obama and public financing — I think Obama truly did flip-flop, but it’s not a big deal to me. I don’t think he “owed” McCain much based on the very minimal discussion they had had about the issue. I basically agree with Ryan’s assessment here, though I’m not sure how much of a “commitment” Obama made. I don’t see him as breaking a promise, but simply changing his mind. And I feel he communicated that change of mind well to his contributors. If a colleague and I agree to go out to lunch tomorrow and the friend changes his mind because of circumstances he didn’t consider before, one would hardly call this breaking a promise. You could say the same thing regarding informal discussions regarding a business venture. As far as I am aware, Obama didn’t promise anything.


    Great points.

  13. 1. I didn’t simply infer that Obama feels he “owes” labor something. This is straight out of his book, in which he admits such. I’ll get a page number when I get my book back.

    2. I think the colleague lunch comparison misses the point. The point here was that last year, Obama said that he would stick to public financing should his opponent do the same. He made this commitment to be consistent with his image: he wanted to show that he wouldn’t let money influence the campaign. This was all part of the post-politics image and promise he was making. Choosing not to keep his word is more than a broken promise; it is an admission that he does not fully stick to those principles he claimed to espouse. He chose to let money have a larger influence on the campaign than he had previously indicated. Again, certainly not out of character for a politician; but since he built his campaign around being a new kind of politician, I guess I sometimes hold him to that standard (the standard he himself has declared).

  14. But, again, this isn’t a big issue for me. It shouldn’t be a deal-breaker for anyone.

  15. From CNN’s Political Ticker:

    Sarah Palin likes to tell voters around the country about how she “put the government checkbook online” in Alaska. On Thursday, Palin suggested she would take that same proposal to Washington.

    “We’re going to do a few new things also,” she said at a rally in Cedar Rapids. “For instance, as Alaska’s governor, I put the government’s checkbook online so that people can see where their money’s going. We’ll bring that kind of transparency, that responsibility, and accountability back. We’re going to bring that back to D.C.”

    There’s just one problem with proposing to put the federal checkbook online – somebody’s already done it. His name is Barack Obama.

    In 2006 and 2007, Obama teamed up with Republican Sen. Tom Coburn to pass the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, also known as “Google for Government.” The act created a free, searchable web site – USASpending.gov — that discloses to the public all federal grants, contracts, loans and insurance payments.

    And this on the same day that Palin said that Obama “hasn’t lifted a finger” to curb corruption in Washington, and has done nothing to extend a hand across the aisle to pass significant legislation. This isn’t just misleading, folks. These are lies.

  16. In regard to my last comment, I realize that Palin appears to be talking about that kind of transparency in general. But it’s so funny that Palin will so thoroughly denigrate Obama when he has already done something that she is playing up as a significant thing and that is clearly exactly the kind of thing she would say she would do (if it weren’t done already).

    It’s also interesting that she’s talking about doing “a few new things.” This ain’t new, Sarah. Neither is the McCain-Palin campaign which is suddenly about change (when they realized that co-opting Obama’s change platform was the only way they even stood a chance at reelection).

  17. I’m with you Dennis. It seems that every day we learn more about how Palin’s record doesn’t match up with her rhetoric.

    I, for one, am thoroughly turned off by this Palin selection.

  18. I must have had a Freudian slip when I talked about McCain-Palin and their “chance at reelection.” Bush = McCain ….

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