Is Barack a Team(ster) Player?

May 5, 2008

Almost every week, a new damaging story emerges about Barack Obama. Lucky for this wounded “messiah” that his disciples in the mainstream media neglect, until the last possible minute, their duty to investigate these reports. This week, there’s a brand-new one, which has surfaced too late to affect the critically important Indiana and North Carolina primaries, but demands scrutiny nonetheless.

The Wall Street Journal — admittedly a mainstream media outlet, save the editorial page — has started the ball rolling on this one with a May 5 article examining the possible reasons behind the International Brotherhood of Teamsters’ endorsement of Obama. We’ll have to see whether Barack’s disciples follow up.

The public line — both of Obama and the Teamsters — is that Obama secured the union’s support by strongly condemning NAFTA, which the Teamsters believe results in the exportation of jobs. Hillary Clinton has been critical of NAFTA, as well, and even says she opposed it from the beginning. But her assertion is almost as incredible as the Bosnian sniper-fire tale because she and her two-for-one co-president were instrumental in bringing the trade agreement to fruition.

So NAFTA might be a factor, though Obama doesn’t completely toe the line on protectionism, favoring certain smaller-scale agreements the Teamsters oppose. He also opposes expanded oil drilling in Alaska against the preferences of the union and favors comprehensive immigration reform over strenuous Teamsters objection. So what does Barack have over Hillary, besides her lateness to the party in opposing NAFTA?

The Journal tells us on page A1, “Sen. Barack Obama won the endorsement of the Teamsters earlier this year after privately telling the union he supported ending the strict federal oversight imposed to root out corruption, according to officials from the union and the Obama campaign.”

Whoa! What’s this all about?

Well, 20 years ago, the Justice Department filed a federal civil racketeering complaint against the Teamsters, alleging the union had “made a devil’s pact” with the Mafia. A year later, the union settled with the government, agreeing to a consent decree in exchange for a dismissal of the lawsuit.

The WSJ reports the decree established a three-member independent review board to investigate and monitor possible corruption within the union and “required the direct election of the union president and other officers by rank and file members, in an election overseen by a court-appointed officer.” Prior to the decree, delegates elected the union president.

Teamsters President James P. Hoffa has pushed for relaxation or elimination of federal involvement since he took office in 1999, arguing that oversight is very costly and that corruption has diminished dramatically. He reportedly lobbied Obama for a year to support his position.

While officials of the oversight board agree that corruption has been reduced, they insist that if the board were eliminated, it would surely re-emerge. The union, they say, is not equipped or inclined to police itself.

Interestingly, neither the Teamsters nor Obama denies that Obama has expressed the view that the consent decree has “run its course.” They just deny there was any quid pro quo between Obama’s position and the Teamsters’ endorsement. After all, Obama came around to his position opposing federal oversight in July or August 2007, and the union didn’t endorse him until February 2008. Why the delay?

Well, the WSJ reports that fellow Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards also agreed with the union on this issue, and “when Mr. Edwards dropped out of the race in January, the union endorsed Sen. Obama in February.”

The timing is undeniably curious and perhaps suspicious. But what is more troubling to me than that or even Obama’s substantive position on the issue is that he has voiced a position on it at all.

The issues surrounding the consent decree are a judicial matter, outside the purview of the executive branch. It’s up to a federal judge to decide whether and when the consent decree should be relaxed or withdrawn.

But sadly, Obama understands, like Bill Clinton intimately understood, that judicial affairs can be affected by the political branches, such as through sympathetic appointments to the Justice Department and the courts. So it is no small matter that a presidential candidate would consider intervening, albeit indirectly, in a judicial question, especially one involving potential corruption.

Who can say at this point whether Obama has nefarious intentions concerning this? But it is difficult to understand what benign motives would lead him to take a position against the advice of the sitting review board that corruption and elections require continued supervision, especially in light of the union’s endorsement. We’ll see if the “watchdog” MSM pursue this story.