As the election of Barack Obama demonstrates, hope is a powerful catalyst for real change. But in the euphoria of anticipation of a new beginning in American politics, it is important to remember that even Jesus Christ was betrayed by his well meaning, but ultimately all-too-human, disciples.
The allegations of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's stunning and audacious attempts to sell the Senator seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama - and potential fallout from those in Obama's new administration who dealt with Blagojevich - should serve as a cautionary tale to Obama's inner circle. At minimum, it should serve to cool the irrational exuberance and impractical expectations of tens of millions of people who eagerly follow Obama's cabinet appointments and declare it to be the best, the brightest, the most experienced, and the most effective cabinet ever assembled by a modern U.S. President.
It's important to hope, but don't lose sight of reality.
A House is Not a Home
While Obama is undoubtedly surrounding himself with experienced people from politics and the private sector, they are nevertheless not his clones. They don't all share his goals and agenda in total, and they don't all live by - or try to meet - the same moral and ethical standards to which Obama appears to aspire.
Stripping away the hype of their qualifications, the reality is that a majority of Obama's cabinet picks are career politicians who were skulking through the back alleys of Washington politics long before Obama ever did - and who look forward to continuing to do so long after he is gone. Even if most are relatively untarnished (or un-caught), all carry some degree of stain simply from being close to the action.
Meanwhile, the cabinet nominees coming from the private sector bring their own baggage of bad decisions and questionable ethics that call their expertise into question - or at least reveal their flawed and thus human side. Finally, members of his administration coming from his Harvard alma mater will make fast and loyal friends - but friends like these tend to create a wall of impenetrability around their "leader" that could quickly insolate and misdirect him, undermining Obama's best intentions.
When Money Talks, Some Listen
He hasn't even mounted his nameplate on the door yet, but incoming White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel is already getting heat for his role in the Blagojevich scandal. Anonymous sources say he was taped on 21 separate occasions speaking with Blagojevich since Obama's election. He was supposedly pushing for Obama's friend Valerie Jarrett to receive the vacated senator seat, so he would not have to compete with her for Obama's attention in the White House. This runs contrary to the claims of Obama's transition team, which said that the two spoke only once, when Emanuel informed Blagojevich of his decision to become chief of staff.
Commerce secretary nominee and current New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson may also be caught in a net of potential controversy, similar to Blagojevich's pay-for-play scandal. A federal grand jury is said to be investigating whether he gave a financial firm more than $1.4 million for work in New Mexico after it made a contribution to his political action committees.
Among other cabinet picks:
Hillary Clinton brings her own well-publicized and often criticized demons to her post as Secretary of State. Her husband and former president Bill Clinton's connection to so many foreign entities raises the specter of conflicts-of-interest. But being Just Plain Hillary, she is a lightning rod for controversy, often for an aggressive approach to getting what she wants that frequently leaves bodies of her bruised and battered victims in her wake.
The sordid Iran-Contra scandal still haunts secretary of defense nominee Robert Gates, originally appointed by Bush to the position in 2006. Many still wonder how much he actually knew about the affair. In the scandal, the Reagan White House was convicted of selling arms to Iran in an attempt to free U.S. hostages in Lebanon; while providing arms to the Contra guerrillas fighting a leftist government in Nicaragua.
People are still leery of treasury secretary nominee Timothy Geithner for his role in allowing Lehman Brothers to fail back in September. It proved a disastrous decision that many blame for sparking the cataclysmic meltdown in the U.S. economy.
Homeland Security nominee Janet Napolitano continues to be shadowed by ethical questions about her role as part of the legal team that represented Anita Hill in 1991. Hill had accused then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. Rumors persist that Napolitano had persuaded one of Hill's witnesses, Susan Hoerchner, to change her testimony to better corroborate Hill's story.
Attorney general nominee Eric Holder played a key role in the pardon of fugitive billionaire Marc Rich by former President Bill Clinton, whom he served under. Rich had escaped the U.S. and renounced his citizenship to avoid charges of racketeering, wire fraud, tax fraud and tax evasion, among others.
As they say in company prospectuses, "Past performance does not guarantee future results." Emanuel is of course a (potentially) worst-case scenario. Blagojevich is not a cabinet appointee. But these "scandals-in-the-making" perfectly illustrate that Obama cannot know the hearts of every man and woman in and around his administration. He is placing his trust on many people - some who will prove they deserve it, and some who will prove otherwise.
There is every reason to hope that the Obama administration will be an historic one, not simply for the fact that he is the first African American to the office, but from what he might actually accomplish. One can dare dream that all the potential embodied in John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King - intelligent, visionary men who stood to elevate our country to new levels of enlightenment and humanistic accomplishments, but who were tragically cut short before they could begin their work - all of their potential might yet be realized in Obama.
But there is equal reason to despair; to fear that he will crash against the wall of ingrained and intrinsic corruption that is Washington politics and its practitioners. In Obama's graceful and eloquent flight to new heights of achievements, he might yet stall, sputter, and fall to earth. The cause may not be pilot error, but mechanical failure beyond his control in the form of the people around him.