A while back, the Obama administration tried to convince Joe Sestak not to run in the Democratic primary against Sen. Arlen Specter, suggesting that it might give him some sort of position on an unpaid commission. Republicans have been torn by the question of whether this rather mundane bit of political deal-making was just worse than Watergate, or might actually be one of history's greatest crimes. Jonathan Chait makes a good observation about this issue:
I'm trying to come up with reasons why the press has taken this seriously. The best I can do is that President Obama has been in office for nearly a year and a half and we've yet to have even an appetizer-sized scandal. Therefore, everybody's jumping on the first one to come along.
Look: Obama's going to be there for four or eight years. Eventually somebody in his administration will do something that's actually illegal, or at least unethical in a way that doesn't require redefining utterly normal political behavior as unethical. My advice to everybody is: pace yourselves.
There are two kinds of administration scandals: those that involve the president himself, and those that involve other people. The real biggies -- Watergate, Iran-Contra, Lewinsky -- are biggies because of the question of what the president did or didn't do. We can hope that Obama has enough sense to avoid doing anything unethical himself. But as Jon says, sooner or later, somebody in the administration is going to do something bad. It's actually pretty remarkable that we're over a third of the way into Obama's first term without any scandal of official malfeasance having occurred.
As I've said before, the problem Republicans have is that their lack of institutional power renders them unable to make mountains out of molehills. They can't issue subpoenas or hold hearings to investigate things. They can express their outrage, but without the institutional power, it's very difficult to get the press to come along.
It's possible, though, that the political press corps is getting itchy for a scandal. After all, we haven't had one since the Valerie Plame affair, which ended three years ago when George W. Bush commuted Scooter Libby's sentence for perjury and obstruction of justice. Scandals are great for journalists -- they allow them to act all investigative, they improve ratings and circulation, and doing your part to unspool a mystery is just plain fun. So chances are that when something real comes along, reporters will be ready to go at it with fangs bared.
-- Paul Waldman
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