The Internet is buzzing with reports that President Obama, to some extent, tried to secure employment for at least two Democratic congressional candidates. Last month, Representative Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania said the White House offered him a position to coax him out of a race against Arlen Specter. The White House confirmed that statement. Now, Andrew Romanoff says that the White House offered him three different positions in order to persuade him not to run against incumbent Senator Michael Bennett from Colorado.
The story has become a leading news item, but most of the reporting fails to address three important questions. First: is this conduct illegal? Second: is it unethical? Third: is this common or traditional behavior among presidents?
I suspect that the conduct is not illegal. Whether it is unethical is a more philosophical point, but people should at least address it, rather than implying that the actions are inherently wrong. Finally, I also suspect that for a large part of U.S. history, presidents have dangled potential employment and other incentives under similar circumstances.
According to Obama's critics offering jobs to political candidates makes him a "Washington insider," which betrays his rhetoric of "change." Running as a Washington outsider is a popular strategy among political candidates -- especially those candidates desperately seeking a job in Washington. But, if people actually believe that the Washington insider label has any substantive value beyond its use as a campaign slogan, they are too gullible to engage in political analysis.