What the Johnson interlude says about Barack Obama

Jim Hoagland deconstructs this week’s stumble by Barack Obama on his VP selection committee chair, Jim Johnson. The former Fannie Mae CEO and recipient of millions from a lender Obama personally demonized on the campaign trail exemplifies Beltway scandals, Hoagland writes, in the same manner that sexual peccadilloes do for London and secret wealth does for Paris. It also says quite a bit about Obama himself, on which Hoagland focuses in the second part of his piece:

But what is important here is what this incident says about Obama, not about Johnson. The senator’s initial reaction was to portray himself as too busy to keep up with the obscure financial doings of people who are not significant to the campaign and to belittle the media for asking him to “vet the vetters.”

To treat Johnson, Holder and Kennedy suddenly as mere fact-checkers is as disingenuous as it is ungracious. Obama is clearly the most intelligent candidate of either party since Bill Clinton. But he can outsmart himself if he goes on expecting the media and the public to accept just about any explanation he gives.

Yes, he can.

Obama managed to go for more than a year without any serious vetting by the national media. Over the past three months, he has reacted in a predictable pattern. He first dismisses an issue as a “distraction”, then castigates the media for asking about it, and then he abruptly cuts bait and pretends that the issue no longer exists. With Jeremiah Wright, Trinity United Church, Michael Pfleger, and now Jim Johnson, the pattern repeats over and over.

It even has its own joke: Obama says, “[Embarrassment] is not the person I thought I knew.”

Has the free ride which existed before March given Obama a certain arrogance in dealing with criticism? Hoagland strongly suggests that kind of arrogance in thinking the media will accept everything he says at face value. It permeates the entire campaign, though. Isn’t it just a tad arrogant to hold himself out as the only agent of change when he hasn’t done anything in three years to even attempt to change the political culture inside the Beltway? Isn’t it arrogant to lecture John McCain on military strategy when Obama has no experience at all in that area, and when events have proven McCain right and Obama wrong in Iraq?

This brings us back to Johnson as well as to Eric Holder, the other member of the committee besides Caroline Kennedy, who helped put together the scandalous Marc Rich pardon in Bill Clinton’s last hours as President. Obviously, Obama wanted some heavy hitters on this committee, people with connections who know Washington and know what it takes to vet candidates. However, he took so little care in selecting these two men that he didn’t even bother to do a Google search on either one. A simple ten-minute investigation would have shown both to represent, figuratively and literally, almost everything against which he’d campaigned for the last eighteen months — insider deals, shady financial ties, and the politics of the payoff.

Being both arrogant and careless doesn’t bode well for someone who will have to run a nation. It’s already led to a series of gaffes and missteps on the campaign trail, such as his two-step on Iran, his two-step on Jerusalem, his two-step on the surge, and more. Obama needed a few years more to break down the arrogance and start learning how to manage himself, let alone a campaign and then a nation.