Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Dog Ate My Papers

This is a silly and contrived "controversy" and Obama may wish he had never brought it up.
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Barack Obama, who's been scolding Hillary Rodham Clinton for not hastening the release of records from her time as first lady, says he can't step up and produce his own records from his days in the Illinois state Senate. He says he hasn't got any.

"I don't have - I don't maintain - a file of eight years of work in the state Senate because I didn't have the resources available to maintain those kinds of records," he said at a recent campaign stop in Iowa. He said he wasn't sure where any cache of records might have gone, adding, "It could have been thrown out. I haven't been in the state Senate now for quite some time."

Obama's statement that he has no papers from his time in the Illinois statehouse - he left in 2004 - stands in stark contrast to the massive Clinton file stored at the National Archives: an estimated 78 million pages of documents, plus 20 million e-mail messages, packed into 36,000 boxes. While any file from Obama's time in the state Senate would be far smaller, the idea that no papers exist at all is questioned by one historian.

"Most of those guys do keep this stuff, especially the favorable stuff. They've all got egos," said Taylor Pensoneau, a historian who has written about Illinois legislators and governors and worked with them as a lobbyist for the coal industry. "It goes in scrapbooks or maybe boxes. I don't think it's normal practice to say it's all discarded."

Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt said Wednesday that "Obama has a track record of leading the way on reform and disclosure," adding that "correspondence with state agencies and records of requests Obama made to them on behalf of his constituents are available to the public and have been accessed by our opponents and members of the news media."

Pressed for details, LaBolt said Obama did not keep any correspondence with the general public. Ditto for letters to or from state associations and lobbyists, memos on legislation and correspondence with Illinois state agencies. The campaign said Illinois agencies have copies of his requests for information or help, but accessing those records would involve contacting the agencies and asking them to comb though eight years of records to find correspondence from Obama.

Obama hasn't always claimed there were no papers left from his time in the state Senate. Earlier this year, campaign spokesman LaBolt asked The Associated Press to narrow a request for records on whether Obama had ever urged clemency for a convicted criminal.

"You're asking us to do an extremely exhaustive search into every record we have from the U.S. Senate and state Senate offices," LaBolt said at the time. At the news conference in Iowa last week, Obama said he didn't "have a whole bunch of records from those years," but told reporters to "let us know" if there are "particular documents that you are interested in."
The article also mentions that John Edwards is now scurrying to get his "papers" released. It's "papers" arms race.

Good lord, who cares. Can we talk about real issues and not instigate fishing expeditions for some "gotcha" nugget buried on page 43 of some attachment to a memo issued 15 years ago?

I've been impressed with much of what Obama has said and done but he has self-defeating moments like this that really make me wonder.

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