In the Arena

Financial Mud: A Users Guide

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It doesn’t seem to me that there is much more than a tiny, indistinct tendril of smoke emanating from the story about Obama’s finances in the Times today. I hope we’re not in for a sustained gloop of such pieces this year, but if we are let me raise a few points:

1. You won’t read many coming from me. They’re boring, impenetrable–I don’t think I made it all the way through one of Jeff Gerth’s Whitewater stories in the Times during the first Clinton term. The bottom line was the same, too : Nothing happened. Hilariously, Obama and Clinton lost money on their deals.

2. If there is any mileage to be had from these things, it comes when the politicians involved handle them badly–then, all of a sudden it blows up into a character issue. Both Stephanopoulos and Gergen argue, persuasively I think, in their Clinton memoirs that there would never have been a Whitewater prosecutor if Madame C had been willing to open all her old Rose Law Firm files to the Washington Post. My guess is that none of the current candidates, including Madame C, will make that mistake again.

3. Even the loveliest, sweetest-smelling of pols must place himself in the proximity of scuzzballs these days. John Edwards may not take any PAC contributions, but he probably has more than a few skeevy ambulance chasers contributing to his campaign, one of whom may be involved in a biotech stock that he mentions to the Edwards’ friend running the blind trust…and you know the rest. This is part of being alive, upper middle class and successful these days, which everyone running for office is. Which is not to say that we shouldn’t chase down the crooks who use their political position to engage in Confucian capitalism–that is, insider trading. But we also have to allow our pols to be human beings, with portfolios.