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Joan Vennochi

Who is crying now?

Email|Print| Text size + By Joan Vennochi
Globe Columnist / February 10, 2008

HILLARY CLINTON isn't the only one crying on the campaign trail. So is Bob Schieffer.

The veteran CBS news anchor recently told radio host Don Imus he got all choked up watching the inspirational "Yes We Can" video, which boosts Barack Obama's candidacy.

Over at MSNBC, Chris Matthews has already admitted to tearing up over Obama's speechifying. Recently, the host of "Hardball" also compared the candidate to "the New Testament."

Some big media names are getting goosebumps thinking about the next Camelot. They're not shy about yearning to turn the clock back to JFK and the 1960s, rather than to the Clintons and the 1990s. Meanwhile, former ABC news anchor Carole Simpson - a journalism professor, no longer a practicing journalist - was lambasted when she gave Clinton an impromptu endorsement at a rally last fall.

The Illinois senator is in good shape as he continues his run at winning the Democratic presidential nomination. He has money, momentum, and plenty of media support.

Analysis of votes cast on Super Tuesday shows that Obama is attracting higher-income citizens, blacks, and young people. He has synergy and the ability to inspire videos like the one produced by rapper-producer Will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas (yeswecansong.com). It features clips of the presidential candidate in New Hampshire delivering his Jan. 8 concession speech, with actors and athletes who sing, mouth, and recite Obama's message. It's fine for Scarlett Johansson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but should media personalities get in on the act?

It should be scrutiny time for Obama, even if only as a helpful exercise in vetting him, if he is the Democrat to face John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee.

Right before Super Tuesday The New York Times reported that Obama took up the cause of residents in Illinois who were outraged that Exelon Corp. did not disclose radioactive leaks at one of its nuclear plants. Obama, who introduced a bill requiring all plant owners to notify state and local authorities of small leaks, told voters on the campaign trail it was "the only nuclear legislation that I've passed."

However, as the Times reported, the bill ultimately died in the full Senate after Obama rewrote it to reflect changes sought by Exelon, Senate Republicans, and nuclear regulators. Meanwhile, Exelon contributed at least $227,000 to Obama's campaign and two top Exelon executives are among his largest fund-raisers. According to the Times, Obama's chief strategist, David Axelrod, also worked as a consultant for Exelon.

Weighed against millions in questionable donations to the Clinton campaign, this may seem insignificant. But Obama is promising a new kind of politics, not a tamped-down version of the Clinton brand. The Times said the Obama campaign did not directly address the question of why Obama told Iowa voters that the legislation that died had, instead, passed. That should be worthy of follow-up.

Obama has been pressed somewhat on his connections to Tony Rezko, a political powerbroker and fund-raiser awaiting trial on fraud charges. The two are linked in a real estate deal involving a sliver of land adjacent to Obama's home; Obama calls it "a mistake on my part." The Obama campaign eventually donated to charity about $150,000 in campaign contributions linked to Rezko, one of Obama's early political patrons.

Again, this is small change compared with money raked in by the Clintons.

The New York Times also reported recently that Bill Clinton helped his friend Frank Giustra, a Canadian mining financier, win a big uranium deal in Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic. In return, Clinton got a $31 million donation to his foundation. The deal undercut American foreign policy and criticism of Kazakhstan's poor human rights record by Hillary Clinton, among others. It rightly resurrects serious questions about the conflicts the former president would bring to a new Clinton administration.

But again, scale isn't the only issue. Obama is pledging to hold himself to a completely different standard of political behavior.

Other questions, just for the sake of political argument: Do endorsements from the liberal Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and from the ultra-liberal political action organization, MoveOn.org., come with a downside in the general election? The National Journal just released a listing that ranked Obama as the most liberal senator in 2007. Have the old labels truly lost their ability to zing?

Obama is riding a wave of support that he generates with natural political talent and exceptional rhetorical skill. It's only human to respond. But if a candidate's uplifting language makes media eyes mist up, how many tough questions will ever pass those lips?

Joan Vennochi's e-mail address is vennochi@globe.com.

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