Other People's Money

Culture of Corruption: Obama and his Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies
By Michelle Malkin
Regnery Publishing Inc., 2009
289 pp, plus 75 pages of supporting end notes

Those of us paying attention before the election found it difficult to reconcile Barack Obama's oft repeated promises that he would run a completely transparent, honest, post-partisan administration, one that was not beholden to lobbyists or any other special interest groups, with his actual past practices and associations.  A guy whose bestest buddies included his own opportunistic wife, Chicago consigliere Valerie Jarrett, pit bull and money man Rahm Emanuel, unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayers, and the entire Daley political machine didn't seem likely to abandon that modus operandi just because he switched to a larger venue.

Immediately after Obama's inauguration, the doom-and-gloom contingent started seeing their worst fears realized.  Even the most minimal due diligence revealed that those people he wanted closest to him were bedeviled by histories of tax problems, nepotism, pay-for-play scandals, political bullying and, in one case, garden-variety shoplifting.   The organizations he champions are no better.

The problem for the ordinary citizen when it comes to Obama cronies is twofold.  First, the main news outlets have been loath to take a hard look at Obama's friends, colleagues and allies.  Each person is lauded as a brilliant choice and it's only been thanks to dogged work from Republican politicos and conservative bloggers that the rot under each person's shining carapace was revealed.  The organizations are ignored.  Second, the myriad failings dogging Barack's buddies are so voluminous and diverse that it's very easy to lose track of things or to throw up one's hands in despair and ignore the whole problem entirely.

Michelle Malkin has taken it upon herself to resolve this twofold problem.  In a single, compulsively easy-to-read book, she organizes the various players in the Obama administration:  his tax-defective cabinet; his "bitter half," aka Michelle Obama; his nepotistic Veep; his unusually crooked cabinet; the money men who power this man of the people; the unions; ACORN; and the residual Clinton contingent are all there, in Technicolor greed.

In addition to providing an overarching organizational scheme for a dizzying array of self-dealers, incompetents, crooks, and radical ideologues, Malkin is a good enough writer that she takes what could easily have become a mind-numbing laundry list of greed and power politics, and instead weaves compelling stories, flavored with colorful language, of the people behind the President. 

The opening chapter, exposing the reality behind a new administration billed as the smartest, most efficient in the world, sets the tone for the book.  And, to be technical, if you define smart and efficient to mean smart at finding people who think outside of the legal and ethical box, Obama delivered on his promise.  Malkin introduces us to failed candidates such as

  • Bill Richardson (corruption scandal)
  • Tom Daschle (taxes, ethics)
  • Nancy Killefer (taxes)
  • Annette Nazareth (allegations of incompetence)
  • Caroline Atkinson (taxes)
  • H. Rodgin Cohen (conflicts of interest)
  • Frank Brosens ("personal" reasons)
  • Scott Polakoff (allegations of fraud)
  • Jon Cannon (ties to embezzlement scam)
  • Charles Freeman (foreign government cronyism) (p. 6)

With the bar set that low, it's not surprising that the ones who squeaked through to actually make it onto the administration payroll are an unsavory, although staggeringly wealthy, bunch.  Malkin has page after page of carefully delineated facts introducing us to Leon Panetta, the new CIA intelligence director who has no intelligence background but is really rich; Gary Locke, the new Commerce Secretary, whose unethical nepotism and Chinagate taint leave you wondering just how safe Commerce Department is in his hands; Eric Holder, the Attorney General, who never met a rich defendant he didn't like, which is par for course for a white collar defense attorney, but doesn't explain his behind-the-scenes championing of the FALN pardons; and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, who should audition for a remake of the "Three Faces of Eve," since she's worn so many hats, she's taken to lobbying herself.

Obama's ethical problems actually start in the bedroom, though, not the cabinet.  So far as we know, his problems aren't in the "drop the pants" Bill Clinton genre.  Instead, as Malkin explains, Mrs. Obama is as comfortable with abuse of power as Obama himself is.  Thus, says Malkin, "Beneath the cultured pearls, sleeveless designer dresses, and false eyelashes applied by her full-time makeup artist, Michelle Robinson Obama is a hardball Chicago politico."  Raised by a dad beholden to Mayor Daley for his job, Michelle herself effortlessly dove into the pay-for-play scheme.  Despite her, and her cronies', protestations about her innate brilliance, she was always comfortable taking high-paying make-work jobs, manifestly given to her solely so that her employers could have access to her husband's political largesse. 

Malkin also devotes a chapter to Obama's czars, although that chapter must be deemed a work in progress.  Since the book's publication, Obama has appointed umpteen more czars, all free from Congressional oversight, and all functioning as a shadow cabinet.  They are Spiderman's doppelgangers:  they have great power, but no ultimate responsibility.  (If you are interested in more about the czars, you can find a comprehensive list here.  It's now up to 44, with 7 pending.)  I have to admit, though, to having a soft spot for one of the czars Malkin introduces:  Vivek Kundra, the technology czar, who was convicted for shoplifting.  In an administration characterized by incredibly sophisticated pay-for-play scandals, graft, nepotism, lobbying, etc., there's something refreshing about an old-fashioned snatch-and-grab.

In addition to describing the multifarious individuals populating the Obama regime . . . er, administration, the book also tackles the two biggest organizations who came trailing into power in Obama's wake:  the Service Employees International Union ("SEIU") and ACORN.  In one documented anecdote after another, Malkin details how these organizations are corrupt, how they raid the federal coffers and, most frightening, how deeply indebted and committed to them Obama is.  Small wonder, then, that he's labored long and hard as President to throw money and power their way (which Malkin, again, documents).

At the end of the day, one of the things that most struck me in the book was what disaffected SEIU members had to say about their own leadership.  Substitute Obama's name for that of Andy Stern, head of the SEIU, and you have a perfect indictment of the Obama way of doing business in (and with) our nation's capitol:

Freeman [a corrupt SEIU official] didn't come from nowhere.  He was appointed by Andy Stern -- for the third time....  And there are many other locals where Stern has installed unaccountable appointees and, sometimes ignoring reports that they were out for personal gain....  So Stern's message to us is clear -- he cares more about expanding control for himself and an ever shrinking inner circle than he does about building real power for working people, creating solid organizations, coming through on SEIU's political pledges for the fall, or even the perception of our union and our movement as real, democratic, valuable and clean.  He will only act when there is no other option, and he will never apologize.  (p. 214.)

Ultimately, I have only one problem with Malkin's book.  I would have titled it "Other People's Money," rather than "Culture of Corruption." 

The word "corruption" implies that every person and entity profiled in the book has violated the law or transgressed moral boundaries.  In fact, while a disproportionate number of them have done so, many of them have not.  What unites the entire cast of characters in this book is that, whether they break the law or not, they are deeply committed to the belief that they are entitled to use other people's money for their own self-aggrandizement or to further their radical political agendas (or both).  Whether assessing the pickings available from taxpayers, union members, or their partners in pay-for-play scandals, they see willing victims, lining up to be fleeced.

Bookworm is the proprietor of the website Bookworm Room.