Time's Grunwald on Sestak Job Offer: 'Criminally Stupid, Not Criminal'

May 27th, 2010 11:57 AM

Imagine if, in 2004, Karl Rove had offered then-Rep. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) a cushy administration post if only he dropped his primary challenge of then-Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, whom the Bush White House was backing for reelection.

Surely the media would merely smell "stupid politics" rather then the stench of corruption and complain that Democrats making hay of the matter were cynically making a federal case out of something that happens in Washington all the time.

Of course both you and I know that's the exact opposite of what would happen. But when it comes to Joe Sestak's alleged job offer by the Obama White House, Time magazine's Michael Grunwald is peeved at Republicans, practically telling them in his May 27 "Viewpoint" post at Time.com to move along:

If it's true that the White House offered Pennsylvania Congressman Joe Sestak a job to try to clear the Democratic Senate primary for incumbent Arlen Specter, that's disturbing.

But not because anyone is "participating in the cover-up of a possible crime." This doesn't sound like a "potentially devastating accusation of political corruption," much less an "impeachable offense," no matter what nonsense Michael Steele or Sean Hannity are peddling. Republicans may be calling for a special prosecutor, and even Democratic Senator Dick Durbin wants to know what happened. But it's called politics, and it's not uncommon. News flash: Sometimes the politics of political appointments and political races can get political. (See ten races that have Democrats worried for 2010.)

No, what's disturbing about the Sestak job offer is that it sounds like uncharacteristically stupid politics. If the White House did try to clear the primary for Specter, it's incredibly lucky it failed. It's hard to see why Obama's political operatives would have wanted Sestak out of the race, unless there's something else we don't know.


So color me perplexed. White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel isn't known for dumb politics. And the Administration is being so cagey that it's hard not to wonder if there's more to the story. One enticing theory: Maybe back when Specter was still a Republican, the White House promised to try to clear his primary if he agreed to switch parties. A deal for Specter's party affiliation would have been even shadier than the alleged offer for Sestak's withdrawal from the Senate race, but it would have made political sense. The White House would have at least gotten something for the promise, although it still would have been dumb to try to keep the promise. And who knows? Maybe the White House never really intended to follow through with a job for Sestak, or offered him something that wasn't available. Maybe they're trying to hide their backroom duplicity, not their criminal complicity.

Or maybe someone just misjudged the situation. It's certainly possible. In any case, it doesn't mean that someone needs to get frog-marched out of the White House. If political misjudgment were a crime, the entire Beltway would get indicted.

Shorter Grunwald: The real crime is that Rahm and company were sloppy and made an offer to a guy who would blab about it to the media.