Obama the Grandstander, Hillary the Résumé-Padder

After her Tuzla fiasco, people may think Hillary Clinton the only one in the race exaggerating her impact on American politics and policy. Not so fast, says the Washington Post’s Shailagh Murray and Jonathan Weisman. Barack Obama has also had to do some grandstanding, and his Senate colleagues don’t appreciate it much:

After weeks of arduous negotiations, on April 6, 2006, a bipartisan group of senators burst out of the “President’s Room,” just off the Senate chamber, with a deal on new immigration policy.

As the half-dozen senators — including John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) — headed to announce their plan, they met Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), who made a request common when Capitol Hill news conferences are in the offing: “Hey, guys, can I come along?” And when Obama went before the microphones, he was generous with his list of senators to congratulate — a list that included himself.

“I want to cite Lindsey Graham, Sam Brownback, Mel Martinez, Ken Salazar, myself, Dick Durbin, Joe Lieberman . . . who’ve actually had to wake up early to try to hammer this stuff out,” he said.

To Senate staff members, who had been arriving for 7 a.m. negotiating sessions for weeks, it was a galling moment. Those morning sessions had attracted just three to four senators a side, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) recalled, each deeply involved in the issue. Obama was not one of them. But in a presidential contest involving three sitting senators, embellishment of legislative records may be an inevitability, Specter said with a shrug.

Unlike governors, business leaders or vice presidents, senators — the last to win the presidency was John F. Kennedy in 1960 — are not executives. They cannot be held to account for the state of their states, their companies or their administrations. What they do have is the mark they leave on the nation’s laws — and in Obama’s brief three-year tenure, as well as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s seven-year hitch, those marks are far from indelible.

After that press conference, one might have expected Obama to roll up his sleeves and help out with the work in getting the bill passed. His fellow Senators certainly expected it, but Obama came up missing when the media attention disappeared. He finally appeared at one meeting — late — and started raising questions about issues that had already been resolved. Ted Kennedy chewed him out, and Obama retreated, never to return.

Nor was that the only bill on which Obama attempted to steal credit. Chris Dodd and Barney Frank, chairmen of the Senate and House banking committees, created a proposal that would have the FHA bail out some homeowners on the verge of foreclosure. Obama didn’t just come out in support for the proposal; he tried to claim authorship for it. Despite having Dodd’s support for his candidacy, Dodd couldn’t let him get away with it, and told reporters that Obama had nothing to do with drafting the legislation.

At the same time, Obama’s campaign has attacked Hillary Clinton for her exaggerations on Tuzla, Northern Ireland, and S-CHIP. They are correct that the former First Lady has done little legislatively as a Senator, and even less as First Lady. Various members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, have already debunked her claim to have helped create S-CHIP, and Lord Trimble’s dismissal of Hillary as a “cheerleader” for the Northern Ireland accords have put her contributions in the correct perspective. Obama’s team has busied itself with Hillary’s schedules during the Clinton administration in order to find more exaggerations.

However, as the Post reports, that recalls the saying that it takes a thief to catch a thief. Both Hillary and Obama have made their careers by stealing credit for work done by others.