David Corn

David Corn

Washington Bureau Chief

Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.

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Post-Jim Johnson, Does Obama Need a "Change Ombudsman"?

| Thu Jun. 12, 2008 11:55 AM EDT

Here's an item I posted at CQPolitics.com....

A friend of Jim Johnson, the Washington player who resigned Wednesday as an unpaid veep-vetter for Barack Obama, tells me that Johnson woke up that morning, looked at the newspapers, saw that he had become a front-page problem for Obama--after The Wall Street Journal a few days earlier had reported that Johnson had received too-sweet home loans from Countrywide Financial--and made the snap decision to quit. By the end of the day, Johnson, who had canceled appointments he had lined up for the day, had left Washington and was in Sun Valley.

It was a quick end to the controversy. Obama fans can be encouraged by the fact that decisive action was taken fast. But Obama initially defended Johnson. So perhaps Obama himself was hoping to ride this one out, even though the episode had the potential to undermine his message of change.

The selection of Jim Johnson was itself troubling--whether or not Johnson did anything wrong regarding his dealings with Countrywide. He's a longtime Democratic Party insider, a "big-business Democrat," as Craig Crawford put its, who headed Fannie Mae in the 1990s and forged a close relationship with Countrywide. He's no agent of change in Washington.

The Democratic Party is full of "wise" men and women who jump between government jobs, campaigns, and well-paid private gigs. They can be campaign strategists one year, and corporate consultants or lobbyists the next--or sometimes, as in the case of Mark Penn, both at once. They are part of Washington's permanent establishment. And some will be making a beeline to the Obama campaign, now that he's the party's presumptive nominee.

To keep his message of change clear and honest, Obama is going to have to say no to these folks, even though they might come with experience and the best of intentions. He's already told Democratic lobbyists they cannot contribute to his campaign. And he will have to extend the rope-line further. Here's a suggestion: he should designate within his campaign an aide to be a "change ombudsman." This person will vet the vetters and everyone else working at a high level for the campaign to make certain none are agents of the status quo.

I'm being only semi-facetious. The Obama campaign will be growing now that he's the all-but-nominated nominee and absorbing Hillaryites and others. Someone on the Obama staff ought to be watching so that no other "big-business Democrats" are placed in positions where their mere presence could undercut Obama's overall message.

Obama's going to have a tough time working and calculating his relationship with the party establishment. (Remember all the corporate-sponsored sky boxes at past Democratic party conventions?) Some party insiders have gotten used to doing well in addition to doing good. Jim Johnson, for instance, was an advocate of extremely generous compensation packages for CEOs, made his own bundle at Fannie Mae, and benefited from accounting manipulations there (though he was never accused of wrongdoing).

Johnson is a warning for the Obama campaign. Beware the consummate Washington players who stock campaigns, transition teams, and administrations. Many are not in it for the change.

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Will the Iraqi Government Destroy Half of McCain's Campaign?

| Wed Jun. 11, 2008 10:53 AM EDT

John McCain and George W. Bush argue that maintaining high levels of U.S. troops in Iraq is essential for the security of Iraq, the region, the world, and, of course, the Untied States. But that does not seem to be the position of Baghdad.

In recent days, there has been a spate of news reports on the troubled negotiations between the Bush administration and the Iraqi government concerning the under-construction agreement that will govern the presence of U.S. troops and military bases in Iraq. The Washington Post reports on the front page:

Top Iraqi officials are calling for a radical reduction of the U.S. military's role here after the U.N. mandate authorizing its presence expires at the end of this year. Encouraged by recent Iraqi military successes, government officials have said that the United States should agree to confine American troops to military bases unless the Iraqis ask for their assistance, with some saying Iraq might be better off without them.
"The Americans are making demands that would lead to the colonization of Iraq," said Sami al-Askari, a senior Shiite politician on parliament's foreign relations committee who is close to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki "If we can't reach a fair agreement, many people think we should say, 'Goodbye, U.S. troops. We don't need you here anymore.'"

See the disconnect? McCain and Bush insist that we have no choice but to keep a large number of U.S. soldiers in Iraq. But Iraqi pols allied with the government look at U.S. troops presence as something that is optional. If these Iraqis can have the Americans there on their own terms, it's fine. If not, their position is, bye-bye.

It's within the Iraqis' rights to set whatever terms they desire. Iraq supposedly is a sovereign nation. (This week, Maliki visited Iran.) But the Iraqis' approach to the negotiations undermine McCain and Bush's defense of the current policy. McCain says it's crucial that the United States remains in Iraq and wins the war. Iraqi leaders are indicating that it ain't so crucial that the U.S. troops stay. (This morning on a conference call with reporters arranged by the Barack Obama campaign, former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig noted an "irony": the Iraqi parliament is deeply immersed in the negotiation of this agreement, yet the Bush White House refuses to involve directly Congress in the agreement.)

So what might happen to the McCain candidacy if the talks--which are supposed to lead to an agreement by the end of July--fail and Iraq gives Bush the boot? McCain won't have a war to promote any longer. And he won't be able to depict Barack Obama as a defeatist surrender-monkey who will yank out troops precipitously and endanger every single family in the United States. In other words, half of McCain's campaign will be gone. (On the Today Show this morning, McCain said that "General Petraeus is going to tell us" when U.S. troops can be withdrawn from Iraq. McCain seemed oblivious to this recent news and the possibility that Iraqis may tell the United States when to withdraw.)

If the talks do collapse, one possibility would be a year-long extension of the current U.N. mandate covering the U.S. troops presence in Iraq. That could keep the status quo in place. Yet if it comes to that, the signal from the Iraqi government will still be, we don't want you here in the way you want to be here. Such a development will not help the war-is-all candidate.

Rev. Rod Parsley, McCain's Former Ally, Caught in a Lie?

| Mon Jun. 9, 2008 5:07 PM EDT

Rod Parsley has trouble with one of the Ten Commandments.

Parsley is the fundamentalist pastor of an Ohio megachurch who was belatedly renounced by John McCain, two months after Mother Jones reported that Parsley, whom McCain had praised and campaigned with, had declared in a book that Islam was a "false religion" that ought to be "destroyed." (For a video, produced by Mother Jones and Brave New Films, showing Parsley in full anti-Islam throttle, click here.)

Sometime after McCain on May 22 rejected Parsley's endorsement, Parsley put out a video in which he responded to the McCain controversy and sought to explain his "Biblical worldview" on Islam. In this statement, he violated the thou-shall-not-fib rule.

First, he accused "political hit squads" (meaning, yours truly) of describing his views in "the most ominous and extreme terms." You can review the MotherJones/Brave New Films video and decide for yourself how "ominous and extreme" Parsley has been. Then, more telling, he betrayed himself, by running away from his own views. In the video, he says his take on Islam is "in the mainstream" and that "I have always, and I will continue, to make a clear distinction between Muslim terrorists and the vast majority of peaceful Muslims."

Not true. In his own book, Silent No More, Parsley declares,

There are some, of course, who will say that the [Islamist] violence I cite is the exception and not the rule. I beg to differ. I will counter, respectfully, that what some call "extremists" are instead mainstream believers who are drawing from the well at the very heart of Islam.

In other words, Islamic terrorists are not bad apples; the faith itself is evil. In his book and in a video sermon on Islam, Parsley does not differentiate between Islam and radical Islam. In fact, he says the two are the same. He also claims that the entire Islam religion is a Satanic deception. And he notes that Islam "is an anti-Christ religion that intends, through violence, to conquer the world." All this is not the mainstream view of Islam.

So when Parsley maintains on his recent video that he does indeed distinguish between radical Islam and the rest of the faith, he appears to be lying. Sure, it's not nice to accuse a man of the cloth of being a liar, but I don't know how one gets around such an obvious conclusion in this case. Parsley clearly knows what he has said and written in the past. He must realize that he is now engaging in nothing but spin.

In his own video, Parsley says, "I understand that the raw truth of the pulpit cannot survive untempered in the political sphere." Entering the political sphere, he has denied stating what he actually stated. And there ain't much "raw truth" in that.

(Credit to Right Wing Watch for spotting Parsley's video.)

McCain Adviser Phil Gramm in the News Again: Did His Bank Help Wealthy Clients Evade Taxes?

| Fri Jun. 6, 2008 9:08 AM EDT

For someone who wants to change Washington, John McCain has surrounded himself with plenty of guys who game the system. His campaign in recent weeks had to boot out a bunch of lobbyists, though his two top campaign aides—Rick Davis and Charles Black—remain in their posts, despite the fact they recently were high-powered lobbyists. Then there's Phil Gramm, a campaign cochairman and economic adviser to McCain. After leaving the US Senate, he became an executive and lobbyist for UBS, the Swiss mega-bank. And as I noted recently, eight years ago, when he chaired the Senate banking committee, he helped create the current subprime meltdown by slyly slipping into a must-pass appropriations measure a bill that completely deregulated certain financial instruments. Isn't that the sort of person you want advising a president and in line to be Treasury secretary?

Gramm is back in the news today. The New York Times reports that federal authorities are investigating UBS to determine whether the bank helped thousands of wealthy Americans hide their assets from the IRS in UBS offshore accounts. Without mentioning that Gramm is a top McCain ally, the paper notes:

The case could turn into an embarrassment for Marcel Rohner, the chief executive of UBS and the former head of its private bank, as well as for Phil Gramm, the former Republican senator from Texas who is now the vice chairman of UBS Securities, the Swiss bank's investment banking arm. It also comes at a difficult time for UBS, which is reeling from $37 billion in bad investments, many of them linked to risky American mortgages.

So it's not too early to ask, What did Phil Gramm know about UBS' offshore practices, and when did he know it? And reporters ought to ask McCain if he has asked Gramm about this investigation. Another query: how long can Gramm remain on McCain's campaign?

Obama Wins

| Tue Jun. 3, 2008 10:40 PM EDT

(For the latest on the Clinton campaign's decision to endorse Obama Saturday, see this post).

With Barack Obama's loss in South Dakota and win in Montana on Tuesday night, the primaries and caucuses are over. The senator from Illinois who ran an unconventional movement-esque campaign of and for change is the winner. He has bagged the most voter-determined delegates and a majority of the superdelegates commitments, enough to declare victory. The nation is heading toward a general election featuring a dramatic face-off between a progressive who opposed the Iraq war and a conservative who was a cheerleader for the war. A fresh face versus a Washington veteran. A onetime community organizer versus a former war hero. A 46-year-old black man versus a 71-year-old white man. Assuming the Democratic mantle, Obama declared in a speech before thousands in St. Paul, Minnesota, "This year must be different than all the rest." It will be. And hours earlier, John McCain, delivering a speech in New Orleans, used the word "change" almost three dozen times. But before the Obama-McCain clash throttles up, there is one last item of business for the Democrats: Hillary Clinton must concede.

Can Clinton harbor any hope of nullifying the verdict of the millions of voters who flocked to the primaries and caucuses in record numbers? That would be the political equivalent of nuclear warfare. To do so, Clinton, who spent the end of her campaign positioning herself as a count-every-vote champion, would have to become an anti-democratic renegade, challenging the outcome of the voting and confronting the party leadership, which has signaled its preference for allowing the pledged-delegate count to determine the final outcome.

On Tuesday, AP reported Clinton had told New York lawmakers she was open to being Obama's veep choice--a sign she won't push the button. And in her speech to supporters in New York on Tuesday night, Clinton was conciliatory toward Obama. She declared, "we stayed the course," depicting her hang-in-there strategy of the past two months as a cause, not a political tactic. She made no mention of the superdelegates, dropping her usual pitch for their support. But in a combative tone, she proclaimed, "I want the 18 million people who voted for me to be respected and to be heard." Heard? Respected? In what way? And by whom? By Obama? That was a statement ready-made for interpretation by pundits and analysts. "Where do we go from here?" she asked. She answered, "I will be making no decisions tonight." Speaking to her supporters, she said, I want to hear from you." And she noted that in the "coming days" she will be consulting with party leaders.

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