WH: We had no idea how many ambassadorships we could sell
posted at 11:54 am on July 10, 2009 by Ed Morrissey
On Wednesday, the Washington Times published the growing list of Barack Obama donors who have found sinecures at State as ambassadors for the US. The White House had apparently not known that previous administrations held only about 30% of such positions as patronage for its contributors, and the professional corps of diplomats had become annoyed at Chicago-sur-le-Potomac. The Times now reports that the Obama administration has discovered its error and promises to go and sin no more:
The White House, unaware of historic norms, had been on track to give more than the usual 30 percent of ambassadorial jobs to political appointees until objections from career diplomats forced it to reconsider, administration officials say.
As a result of the reversal, some donors to President Obama’s election campaign – as well as senior advisers and other supporters of the campaigns of Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton – are likely to find their hopes of being rewarded with an embassy dashed.
“The White House has come around, and we truly expect that, at the end of the process, the balance will be within historical norms,” said one senior administration official who asked not to be named because he was discussing internal deliberations.
Mr. Obama has been criticized in recent weeks for continuing the tradition of handing out ambassadorships to major campaign donors with no experience in foreign affairs.
The Washington Times reported Tuesday that an old college roommate, the head of an entertainment production company and a lawyer whose family made its money selling vacuum cleaners are among more than a dozen people who have been given ambassadorships after raising a total of at least $4 million for Mr. Obama’s campaign, according to public records.
Barack Obama is hardly the first US president to hand out ambassadorships to big-time donors. That practice has a long and inglorious history, including Richard Nixon setting a $250,000 contribution floor for wannabe statesmen. All of the previous presidents understood that a certain level of discretion is required, however, to allow people to ignore it.
This brings us to the supposedly Day One-ready Barack Obama. He has fumbled on diplomacy and protocol now for almost six months, whether it comes to gift exchanges with the British or the proper method of greeting monarchs, such as Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah. Not only did Obama not know how to conduct himself, he seems curiously incurious about it even now.
Contributor patronage isn’t limited to the State Department, either. Obama has handed out plum appointments to about half of his above-average bundlers to areas like the FCC and the Department of Justice, where Congress just made a fetish of non-partisanship in its previous session. Under Obama, the sale of offices seems to have reached a nadir, and this from the man who promised Hope and Change. A subsequent promise to hold cronyism and influence-purchasing within historical limits seems like a reversal all its own.