Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Candidates ignored ‘smell test’


By far the worst days for Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Barack Obama were when they were tripped up by their lousy judgment in people. They and their staffs either don't have or didn't use a premier intuition in politics—the "smell test" for trouble.

With thousands of bloggers and citizen journalists with cell phone cameras looking on, presidential candidates who err will find themselves in a swamp of criticism and controversy that detract from important messages.

John McCain's weakness for toxic friendships goes back to the 1980s when he embraced wheeling-dealing accused master swindler Charles Keating as friend, Bahamas vacation host and political benefactor. In his current presidential campaign, McCain begged for endorsements of the Hell-and-damnation evangelical firebrand, the Rev. John Hagee, and the creepy Rev. Rod Parsley, both now disowned by McCain after criticism erupted over their incendiary views. McCain also railed smugly against lobbyists, then inexplicably surrounded himself with a cadre of celebrated Washington lobbyists. Last weekend, McCain finally canceled a Texas fundraiser when reporters pointed out the oilman host had wisecracked in a losing gubernatorial campaign against Gov. Ann Richards that women should relax and enjoy rape when it seemed inevitable.

Hillary Clinton runs a close second for ineptness. How could someone claiming superior political canniness use Norman Hsu as a major fundraiser and omnipresent camp follower? Heavens. The man was a wanted felon on the lam and vividly in the news.

Then there's Obama, a tenderfoot but a repeat offender slow to learn. Naively, Obama fell under the spell of Chicago manipulator Tony Rezko, who reeked of trouble and recently was convicted on multiple charges of fraud, kickbacks and extortion. Then came Obama's loopy minister, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and his pick of James Johnson as head of his vice president search team. It took him forever to dump Wright and the church that created such misery. Then he hemmed and hawed before firing Johnson as a liability because of Johnson's suspect past in mortgage profiteering.

The astonishing part is these blunders were avoidable by simply Googling names. An entry-level intern would've found archived items that literally shouted warnings about these blemished worthies.

Despite oaths to impose change, Clinton, McCain and Obama demonstrated old Washington ways—poor judgment, followed by controversy, followed by damage control.

Presidential candidates that lack common sense and rely on uncritical Washington insiders should hire cranky old cynics who're unimpressed by wealth, power and position and are scornful enough to cast wary, jaundiced eyes on everyone around the candidate and flag those to be avoided or abandoned.

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