Jewish World Review January 12, 2009 / 16 Teves 5769
Obama serves Reid taste of Chicago Way
By John Kass
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | So the Chicago Way hauled off and slapped the U.S. Senate in the face - one of those backhands with the knuckles to unsuspecting lips - and guess who blinked?
It wasn't Chicago.
It was the Senate.
Get used to it, America. And it won't be the last time either.
Roland "Tombstone" Burris, the amiable Illinois Democratic political hack who is being called eminently qualified by the national Democrats - perhaps because he's from Illinois and he hasn't been indicted - has almost reached his goal of being addressed as "Yes, sir, Senator."
Now Tombstone has President-elect Barack Obama behind him, muscling Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid in a phone call earlier in the week. So much for transcending the old politics.
Only a week ago, Obama, Reid and other Democratic leaders were adamant that they'd block any Senate appointment made by tainted Illinois Gov. Rod "Dead Meat" Blagojevich, who has been charged with trying to sell Obama's seat to the highest bidder.
Their statements back then were stern and inflexible, invoking the honor of the Senate and how they'd never let an allegedly corrupt governor put his greasy paws on their august dignity. Those statements weren't bland. They were so tough they had hair on them. More hair than Blagojevich, even.
But today's news is that Obama, often treated by the national media as the gentle Mr. Tumnus of American politics, got privately hardball with Reid over the Tombstone issue.
According a story in the Chicago Tribune by Rick Pearson and Mike Dorning, Obama didn't want the Chicago Way on parade in Washington, less than two weeks before his inauguration, when he formally becomes the agent of the change we can believe in.
Obama is perfectly within his rights to try to wriggle out of an embarrassing political situation, and what could be more embarrassing for him than to have Illinois political corruption constantly on the news in Washington?
People might start asking questions, wondering how Obama could come out of a city run by the wrought-iron fists of the Daley machine but smell like the neck of a baby after a bath.
I'm still wondering.
Yet Obama was tricky, not mentioning his phone call to Reid when talking to reporters Wednesday. He said Tombstone was the Senate's business, not his business.
"This is a Senate matter. But I know Roland Burris, obviously; he's from my home state. I think he's a fine public servant," Obama said, pulling a 180 on his earlier no-Burris position. "If he gets seated, then I'm going to work with Roland Burris, just like I work with all the other senators."
At least Obama had the good grace not to wag his index finger at reporters and bite his lower lip before announcing, "I did not have phone contact with that senator, Harry Reid, never, ever."
That's because he wasn't asked about Reid.
Obama almost wasn't asked anything about Burris on Wednesday. One reporter barely tossed it up at the end, after others asked him about the war in the Gaza Strip (Obama still can't comment about Gaza because he's not yet president) and the economy (though he's not president, you can't stop the guy from commenting on that one).
What Obama forgot to mention is that he ordered the Tombstone issue settled because it became his problem. So he told Reid to cave.
In political terms, Reid rolled up his sleeves, put on his favorite "Kiss the Chef" apron, got his fingers dusty with flour and baked himself a big humble pie. He scarfed it down in front of reporters Wednesday, without a fork, all but licking his fingers, that pie was so sweet and tasty. Mmm-mmm.
"For me, who had never met the man, it was very enlightening," oozed Reid, heaping praise on Burris after meeting him for the first time. "He is very engaging, an extremely nice man and he presents himself very well."
Reid was joined by another oozer, perhaps the most accomplished public oozer in the Senate, Dick Durbin of Illinois.
"I've known Roland Burris for 36 years in Illinois politics. We have always been friends," said Durbin, who a few days ago was calling the Burris appointment "an act of political defiance" that "will lead nowhere."
Then they agreed that Tombstone would probably get to join their club, and they also agreed that race had nothing to do with it, even though they are Democrats and Blagojevich played the race card as adroitly as Al Sharpton eating soul food with Caroline Kennedy in Harlem.
Sure, they're white guys and Burris is black, but race had nothing to do with it. It was just procedure and technicalities, they said.
"People ask a lot of times why we have to do various things procedurally here in the Senate," Reid told reporters. "It's because we're the Senate: That's how we operate."
Correction. That's how you used to operate. You're from Nevada, but Obama comes from Chicago.
It's sure got to be difficult to eat a big hunk of humble pie when your lips are stinging, but here's some advice, Senators.
Have another slice. There's plenty more.
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John Kass is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Comments by clicking here.
© 2008, Chicago Tribune. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.