Obama played hardball in Chicago ... so?

I’ve gotten this on numerous e-mails this afternoon, but honestly, I don’t see the issue. Barack Obama played hardball in Chicago politics by challenging names on petitions that were printed instead of signed, which allowed him to disqualify opponents. And?

In his first race for office, seeking a state senate seat on Chicago’s gritty South Side in 1996, Obama effectively used election rules to eliminate his Democratic competition.

As a community organizer, he had helped register thousands of new voters. But when it came time to run for office, he employed Chicago rules to invalidate the voting petition signatures of three of his challengers.

The move denied each of them, including incumbent Alice Palmer, a longtime Chicago activist, a place on the ballot. It cleared the way for Obama to run unopposed on the Democratic ticket in a heavily Democrat district.

“That was Chicago politics,” said John Kass, a veteran Chicago Tribune columnist. “Knock out your opposition, challenge their petitions, destroy your enemy, right?” Kass said. “It is how Barack Obama destroyed his enemies back in 1996 that conflicts with his message today. He may have gotten his start registering thousands of voters. But in that first race he made sure voters had just one choice.”

Obama’s challenge was perfectly legal, said Jay Stewart, with the Chicago’s Better Government Association. While records of the challenges are no longer on file for review with the election board, Stewart said Obama is not the only politician to resort to petition challenges to eliminate the competition.

Well, I hate to break it to people, but the rules required signatures, not printed names. Obama’s challenge focused on those names printed onto the petitions, as well as the proper registration of the petition handlers. These rules exist for good reason, too. If printed names were acceptable and the collectors don’t properly identify themselves, then all a political campaign needs to do is to copy names out of a phonebook and make sure that the work couldn’t be traced by using a false identity for the collector.

Conservatives have rightly demanded proper identification for voters in order to avoid fraud. Certainly, these rules prevent voter fraud as well and should be enforced. We can fault Obama for not being consistent about the issue, but it’s somewhat hypocritical to fault Obama for demanding that the existing rules get enforced.

It says something about the political culture in Chicago that the other candidates see enforcing the rules as out of bounds,

At any rate, Obama operated within the rules to eliminate his opposition, who clearly didn’t follow those rules themselves. I’ve got lots of complaints about Barack Obama as a presidential candidate, but enforcing voter-fraud provisions isn’t one of them.