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What Blago Didn't Get About Obama

Two quick thoughts about the Blagojevich indictment:

1.) What's most remarkable to me--at least once you get beyond the cartoonish brazenness, and, of course, the idea that Blagojevich had presidential aspirations--is how spectacularly Blago misunderstands Obama himself. Among the various prizes he contemplates prying from the "President-elect" are a cabinet seat (preferably HHS, but, as "Deputy Governor A" points out, energy secretary "makes the most money"), an ambassadorship, a position as head of a private foundation like the Red Cross, and some top role in the Change to Win coalition, which would apparently come about by way of an elaborate three-way trade involving Obama and SEIU. According to the indictment, Blago hoped to bargain for such a position in the manner of "...a sports agent shopping a potential free agent to various teams, stating 'how much are you offering, [President-elect]? ... '[President-elect], you want it? Fine. But, its got to be good or I could always take [the Senate seat].'” In response to which one feels compelled to ask: Is there anything in Obama's background that suggests he'd react well to such an explicit shakedown?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying Obama can't be ruthless, opportunistic, or calculating when he has to be. He obviously can. Just that Obama's a guy who: a.) likes to think of himself as aboveboard and noble even when he's not behaving that way; b.) absolutely hates being told what to do (think of how long he resisted attacking Hillary while the press insisted he had to); and c.) is absolutely fanatical about process (I'm told that even people who expect to land senior positions in the administration have to submit their resumes to the website). It may be possible to arrange a political trade with such a person. But you certainly won't get far by issuing Scott Boras-esque demands. Then again, subtlety doesn't appear to be Blago's strong suit.

2.) Does this crimp Caroline Kennedy's Senate prospects? As Crowley's correspondent notes, there's something unseemly about appointing a rich woman with no record of public service just because she hails from the right dynasty. It's obviously not even remotely analogous to the way Blagojevich was finding the people of Illinois a new senator. But it does scream "inside game" in a way that might not be so comfortable for David Paterson post-Blago scandal, which is kind of the reductio ad absurdum of an inside game.

--Noam Scheiber

Update: One other quick point, this one about the identity of "Senate Candidate 5," the potential senator who appears to have played ball with Blago (and whom Blago believed Obama was down on): Jason offers this explanation for why it's probably not Jesse Jackson Junior:

I can't think of any reason why Obama would oppose Jesse Junior moving over to the Senate. As I reported for the print mag early this year, Obama's relationship with Jesse Senior may be fraught, but he's actually fairly close to Jesse Junior. And, presumably, their relationship grew stronger over the course of the campaign, during which Jesse Junior did yeoman's work for Obama, the least of which was slapping down his dad when he did something against Obama's interests.

I dunno. True, Obama's personally close to Jesse Junior. But if there's one thing the transition process has proven, it's that Obama's a pretty unsentimental guy when it comes to appointments. Lots of people Obama is pretty close to have been passed over for top jobs in favor of relative outsiders (among other things, you might have expected to see an Obama loyalist as secretary of state or national security advisor). I'm not sure why the Senate appointment would be any different.

More importantly, while Jesse Junior has distinguished himself by knee-capping his dad from time to time, and whiles he's won a fair amount of respect in Washington, I'm not sure that's enough to overcome the liability of his family name among suburban and downstate voters in Illinois. When I first profiled Obama after he won his Senate primary in 2004, a pollster for a Democratic rival told me that white suburban swing voters were always extremely high on Obama in focus groups--except when the pollster showed them a picture of Obama at an event with Jesse Junior. It was the one time Obama's numbers went south among these voters, the pollster told me, and the effect was significant. I'm not sure the effect would be the same today--Jesse Junior's has worked hard to develop his own identity since then--and, even if it was, that doesn't make Jesse Junior Senate Candidate 5. Still, it wouldn't shock me if Obama was aware of this issue and queasy about risking it.

Update 2: I added two clauses to the previous update to provide a little context.

Be sure to check out the rest of our Blagojevich coverage here.