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Why Sestak-gate Won’t Become Watergate II

May 31, 2010

In a sane world, the sensational admission by Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) that a plum federal job was his if he dropped out of his Senate primary race against the beatable (and now beaten) Arlen Specter would be the potential “smoking gun” that could unravel what’s left of the Obama presidency. Unfortunately, we no longer live in a sane world when it comes to presidential politics or much of anything else for that matter.

In a recent article, it’s noted that seven Republican senators (Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Orrin Hatch of Utah, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Jon Kyl or Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, John Cornyn of Texas and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma) are asking Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Sestak’s claim that a White House official offered him a job to induce him to exit the Pennsylvania Senate primary race against Specter. The senators allege that the offer may violate federal criminal laws, including 18 U.S.C. 600, which prohibits promising a government position “as consideration, favor, or reward for any political activity” or “in connection with any primary election or political convention or caucus held to select candidates for any political office.” Seems pretty clear, doesn’t it? However, don’t hold your breath waiting for Mr. “Miranda Rights for Terrorists” to act on this request.

Now, if only we had a media that were as determined to get to the bottom of this story the way that Woodward and Bernstein and others went after the Nixon administration during Watergate, chances are that Obama could not survive the result. There are two reasons why this would be the case. First, the “White House official” who allegedly made the offer to Sestak would have to be someone with fairly close proximity to the president. Plum jobs, such as perhaps the Secretary of the Navy (Sestak is a former admiral) don’t get offered without approval at the highest levels. Therefore, if Sestak’s allegations are true (and what would he have to gain by lying about such a momentous claim?), then the only question is what was asked so famously during Watergate: What did the president know, and when did he know it?

Second, the administration has already committed a cardinal sin that helped sink Nixon. Two infamous terms coined during Watergate—“stonewalling” and “cover-up” have already been employed over the last couple of months by Obama’s minions, in particular the hapless press secretary Robert Gibbs, in the hopes that a friendly (thus far) media would allow whatever “legs” this story might have to atrophy. Despite the sensational allegations, don’t bet against this strategy working with a still-friendly media who will buy into the “nothing of an illegal nature happened” talking point that, mantra-like, will continue to be parroted by Gibbs and other flaks in the administration and Congress.

There is a third factor mitigating against anything big coming out of this, and that is what’s happened in American culture in the last 40 years or so. The moral relativism that has seeped into every crevice of our existence these days will make it tough for anyone to make an ironclad case that serious wrongdoing occurred here. Already, this source and others are making the tired old “equivalency” claim—that is, a Republican (namely Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire) allegedly was guilty of a similar offense by “demanding” that the White House ensure a Republican was appointed to take his place should he accept Obama’s offer to be Commerce Secretary (ultimately he did not, and he had good reason to be concerned about his replacement since the governor who would make the appointment is a Democrat).

If indeed the “minion” who offered Sestak the government job turned out to be the beleaguered chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, there could be no doubt that Obama himself was aware of the offer and most likely at least tacitly signed off on it. However, we cannot expect Emanuel, or anyone else close to the president with knowledge or involvement, to pull a “John Dean” and blow the administration’s cover. Democrats simply don’t rat out their own—they’re too politically invested to do that. The fact that Sestak went this far in his admission is amazing enough. But don’t expect him to go any further, even if he’s called by a special prosecutor-appointed grand jury to do so.

Despite all the heinous things we’ve heard about the Watergate scandal, it took two rats (Dean and another aide, Alexander Butterfield, who perhaps unwittingly disclosed the taping system in the Oval Office) and an overly-zealous media who hated Nixon to bring that administration down. With Sestak-gate, we have neither of these going for us. As much as we might hope that a soon-to-be Republican House could pull the trigger on impeachment charges, would a Senate that would still be Democrat (or at best, Republican by the slimmest of margins) have the fortitude to convict a sitting president? The companion E-Mail of the Week seems to indicate the possibility. But in my opinion, the best we can hope for is that the American people—those who still care—will take note of the sleaziness involved here, and continue to lose whatever faith they had in Obama and his party. And that this loss of faith will translate to massive defeats at the ballot box this year and in 2012.

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