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Don’t You Feel Fishy?

May 27, 2010
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Jonathan Chait has been doing a pretty good job of debunking the idea that the Administration committed a crime—indeed, that it did anything scandalous at all—by offering a job to Joe Sestak to get him out of the Senate race with Arlen Specter.  His point:

I’ll keep saying this: A job offer is not a quid pro quo to get somebody out of a race. It is getting somebody out of a race. Accepting one job means you cannot run for another. It happens all the time — the White House appointed John McHugh Army Secretary in part to get him out of New York’s 23rd Congressional District. It offered Judd Gregg a cabinet slot in order to get him out of the Senate. This is completely routine, neither illegal no immoral nor especially unusual. Can’t we wait to appoint a special prosecutor until there’s at least some possibility of underlying illegal behavior?

Yes, that’s true.  The Administration could not have offered Joe Sestak a job in exchange for dropping out of a race because Sestak would have had to drop out of the race anyway to accept the job.  As Drum put it, “It’s like saying that I offered a cashier some money in return for not having me arrested when I walk out the door with a Blu-Ray player under my arm.”  Chait also notes that when Judd Gregg was offered a cabinet position, he accepted (albeit fleetingly) on the condition that New Hampshire’s governor not appoint a Democrat to serve in his place, yet nobody had diddly to say about that.

All of which is to say that this Sestak thing is not really a big deal.  Okay, I get it, it wasn’t a bribe, it happens all the time, etc.  But isn’t this still a little unethical?  Isn’t it a little slimy that the President offered Judd Gregg a cabinet position not only so that he would no longer be in the Senate, but that maybe they could also get a Democrat to take his place?  Isn’t that an attempt to subvert the electoral process?  Similarly, isn’t it a bit of a shady overreach on the part of the Administration to try to affect the outcome of an election by doing something other than just campaigning for a candidate (that is, attempting to avoid having to campaign for a swide-swapper like Arlen Specter by getting his opponent out of the race)?  And isn’t it a little suspect that the President appointed one of the supposed rising stars of the Republican party, John Huntsman, to be the foreign ambassador to China (potentially to remove him from the national stage, thus diminishing his chances at a presidential run in 2012)?

I know it’s not illegal, and I know it happens quite frequently, but this practice still strikes me as unscrupulous.  I’m sure Bush probably did it too, but I don’t care.  It still makes me uneasy.

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