Yuval Levin writes of Barack Obama in the current issue of National Review (not available online):
Any politician who rises as quickly as Obama did on the South Side of Chicago is bound to have made some questionable friends along the way, and the Rezko affair has certainly started some people in the press and the political world wondering what else might lurk undiscovered in the senator's past.
I agree that Chicago politics is grubby enough that you'd wonder about anyone who'd succeeded there--especially about who they might have befriended to help their cause. But I'd guess that a stunningly rapid ascent would make you less, not more likely, to have questionable friends. The point of making questionable friends is to marginally accelerate your long, slow climb up the traditional political hierarchy. But it's still a long, slow climb. If Obama had come up through the usual channels, there's no way he could have made it so quickly, with or without help from such friends. The conclusion I draw is that he didn't arrive at his current station the usual way--that he circumvented the usual channels--not that he had some extraordinarily powerful friends we just haven't heard about yet.
Levin implies that the media only recently started mining Obama's past for the dodgy relationships that might lurk there. In fact, we've been at it for over a year now. The fact that we haven't found much other than Rezko seems to support my take.
A newspaper editor I interviewed for this piece a few weeks ago had similar thoughts. Here's how he told me he thinks about Obama coverage:
There is an assumption on most people’s part that Barack Obama came up through Chicago politics on a [ground] level, which means he's associated with all kinds of unsavory characters, he had to make compromises. On the other hand, you could say he's a fairly eloquent square. He was working at the fringes of the black political establishment, and the more traditional [Chicago] establishment, and was not taken seriously by either. That he skyrocketed to a degree, he didn’t get his feet stuck in the mud. In that case, since the glitter and temptations would have come to him in the last 18 months, you'd look to people surrounding him and raising money [since then].
This editor conceded that, after several months of digging by his and other outlets, it was looking more like Obama "was the product of a virgin birth."