The Palins, the Bidens, and the Obamas

Even with the passage of a few days from the Convention to ‘cool down’, I find that my admiration for Gov. Palin remains steadfast. If anything, it has increased as she now takes to the campaign trail. One of the reasons is something I have not seen discussed much, if at all, in the media or in the blogosphere. But it is something I feel strongly about and felt worth discussing.

Due to the extraordinary attacks by the left on Gov. Palin’s family, all parties – including the Obama campaign – have simply declared family members (except those who serve as proxies by campaigning, as Cindy McCain and Michelle Obama have done) out of bounds. Generally, I concur.

However, there is an exception.

As I learned more about the Palins, while everyone was focused on Sarah Palin, I found myself fascinated with Todd Palin. He seems like a normal guy, a man’s man if you will, who’s into his own thing and is not threatened by his powerful wife in any way. But as I learned more, this leaped out at me:

He is a facilities operator for giant BP on the North Slope oil fields. He took a leave from a management job when his wife was elected governor in 2006 but returned after about seven months in a nonmanagement job, according to BP spokesman Steve Reinhard.

This is from a source normally not-friendly to Republicans. Lest we conclude that “management job” might mean something like CFO, or VP of Operations, let’s be clear: Todd Palin was employed as an “oil production operator” by BP. This job posting at rigzone.com gives us an idea of what this “management job” is:

2 yrs. minimum oil and gas production operation experience for 7/7 and 14/14 work schedule rotation.

Baker is NOW HIRING B Operators with the ability to assist in operating GOM production facilities with little supervision, including but not limited to, safety, environmental, regulatory compliances, testing, repairs and maintenance of facilities, wells, production equipment, safety equipment, devices, measuring equipment, rotating equipment, and shipping/receiving of materials. Becoming a member of the Baker Energy team may assist candidates with great opportunities for the future. Become a member of a winning team.

Maybe Todd Palin’s job was more of a “manager” of these operators, requiring more experience, which would explain why he was making $100K to $120K a year. But let’s be clear – this guy was more of a “line manager” who lead a team in the field, not a corporate management guy.

Nonetheless, when his wife became the governor, Todd Palin took a leave for seven months. Then he went back as a straight up laborer – just one of the working grunts. Not even a team manager.

The Obamas

In contrast, Michelle Obama was appointed as the VP of Community and External Affairs at the University of Chicago Medical School in 2005. Prior to this, she was the Executive Director for Community Affairs. Prior to that, she was the Associate Dean of Student Services for the University of Chicago.

Let us recall what else happened in 2005. That’s right – one Barack Obama was sworn in as the junior Senator from Illinois.

Her salary jumped from $121,910 to $316,962, according to The Dallas Morning News. That isn’t all:

Ms. Obama’s promotion came two months after her husband became a senator, but campaign aides said that she’d been offered the promotion and turned it down before that.

In 2006, Mr. Obama sought, but didn’t get, a $1 million earmark for the medical center. Aides and university officials said at the time that Michelle Obama had nothing to do with the request, and that her husband was merely trying to help a constituent like many others.

Mr. Obama, however, later said that he should have asked another senator to request the earmark for his wife’s workplace. “This is something that slipped through our cracks, through our screening system,” he said.

O rly? It’s something that slipped through the cracks, through the screening system? I suppose Barack Obama was so busy that he forgot who his wife’s employer was. Sure I can see how one might forget such a trivial factoid like who one’s spouse works for. Especially when she is “intimately involved with his work, reading drafts of his major speeches and tweaking his big ideas and little punctuation choices alike”.

But leaving aside the apparent conflict of interest and all sort of other fun things going on there, let us focus on Michelle’s interesting career path. Here’s a timeline based on this announcement in 1996 by the University of Chicago naming her as the Assistant Dean of Student Services:

• 1988 – Graduate from Harvard Law School.• 1989 – 1991: Associate, Sidley & Austin• 1991 – 1992: Assistant to the Mayor (of Chicago, presumably, who was one Richard M. Daley)• 1992 – 1993: Assistant Commissioner in the city of Chicago’s department of planning and development• 1993 – 1996: Executive Director of Public Allies Chicago (this info comes from this release, which says she was the Founding Executive Director of Public Allies Chicago)• 1996 – 2002: Assistant Dean of Student Services, University of Chicago• 2002 – 2005: Executive Director for Community Affairs, University of Chicago Hospitals• 2005 – Present: Vice President for Community and External Affairs, University of Chicago Hospitals. (According to this Wikipedia article, she still holds this position, part-time.)

Now, what else happened during this timeline?

It appears that in 1996, one Barack Obama was elected to the Illinois State Senate.

In 2002, Barack Obama was reelected to the Illinois State Senate, an election which changed control of the State legislature from Republicans to Democrats. As so happens, he became the Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, which oversees… you guessed it… hospitals, among other things.

And of course, in 2004, he was elected to the U.S. Senate.

Is it not curious that the dates of Michelle Obama’s jobs coincide so perfectly with electoral success by her husband?

The Bidens

What of the Biden family?

The fact that one son, Hunter Biden, is a lobbyist is by now a well-known fact. That he may have lobbied his own father is interesting, although the campaign obviously denies it. That he lobbied one Senator Barack Obama, who went to bat for his clients to the tune of $3.4m, is interesting:

Sen. Barack Obama sought more than $3.4 million in congressional earmarks for clients of the lobbyist son of his Democratic running mate, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, records show. Obama succeeded in getting $192,000 for one of the clients, St. Xavier University in suburban Chicago.

And now, thanks to the gents at Powerline, we learn that Beau Biden also has a rather interesting career path:

As I understand the facts, Biden, a graduate of Syracuse University law school, began his DOJ career in 1995 in the Office of Policy Development. Two years later, he obtained the far more prestigious and high profile position of Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) in the Philadelphia office. This is a career position, so politics should not come into play in the selection process.

AUSAs litigate cases on behalf of the U.S. government. Thus, I’m told, the credentials normally required of an AUSA for an office like Philadelphia include a few years of successful litigation experience, typically in a state or city DA’s office, or in a litigating division of DOJ, such as the Criminal Division or Civil Division. There, one gains trial experience plus experience dealing with motions. As far as I can tell, Biden lacked litigation experience. The DOJ’s Office of Policy Development is not a litigating division.

The suspicion arises, therefore, that Beau Biden got his AUSA job with the help of his father. It’s only a suspicion, but one that perhaps merits scrutiny from a few of the MSM correspondents currently on assignment in Alaska.

And by the way, Beau Biden failed the Delaware Bar Exam three times, before finally passing.

Now, I happen to know personally two Assistant United States Attorneys. Both men, while liberal Democrats, are upstanding people, and simply outstanding lawyers. Both were litigators at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, probably the best law firm in the country. One went to Harvard Law School, the other to NYU School of Law. Both are editors of their respective Law Reviews, are brilliant, and incredibly hardworking. They both passed the Bar on the first try. When they were applying for the AUSA job, lacking U.S. Senator fathers, they were put through the ringer and then some. They told me that the job was one of the toughest to get in the law. Incredibly qualified men and women were getting dinged because the others were even more qualified.

And somehow, Beau Biden, three-time Bar Exam loser, graduate of Syracuse University Law (which may be a fine school, but it’s not even in the same league as the other AUSA’s), got the coveted AUSA job. And his father just happens to be the Chairman of the Senate Justice Committee.

Fair Game

While families may be off-limits for campaigns, this particular example is, I believe extremely relevant.

None of us would blame Joe Biden, if we were honest, about wanting to help his sons succeed. All of us have had a friend or a family member help us out with references, job referrals, with help. We would do the same for them. When someone we know gains a position of power, it is perfectly human and perfectly natural to take advantage of the good fortune – as long as we were not doing anything illegal or unethical, one might even take such a thing for granted.

But not Todd Palin. Not the Palin family.

They were so upright that Todd quit what was for all intents and purposes a low-level management job because his wife would have influence over oil companies. They did not want to be influenced even by that small a connection. So he’s back at work, in a nonmanagement role, pumping oil like any of the other hardhats.

The contrast is stark.

When the country thinks over the next couple of months about who we would want in the Oval Office, about who should represent us in the seat of power, we might want to think about the incredible restraint of the Palins. Yes, I know McCain is at the top of the ticket, and I haven’t researched his family — I ran out of time, as it were. But I am somewhat… confident that you won’t be finding odd coincidences of electoral success coupled with career success for people around John McCain.

Perhaps what the Obama and the Biden families did is not illegal nor unethical. But what they did not do was to turn down jobs that may cause a conflict of interest in the person who loved them the most in the world. Maybe such opportunism is the way of the real world.

That simply makes the sacrifice of the Palins that much more amazing, that much more laudable.

They are surely an imperfect family, and imperfect human beings. I am certain to be disappointed in the weeks to come in one way or another.

But on this point, on the issue of ethics, of avoiding even the appearance of impropriety… the difference is stark.