Jim Johnson, the manager of Barack Obama’s VP search committee resigned today amid controversy over the details of his personal mortgage loans from Countrywide. In a statement Obama said, Jim did not want to distract in any way from the very important task of gathering information about my vice presidential nominee, so he has made a decision to step aside that I accept.”
The Republicans have been hammering the Obama campaign hard for the past few days over Johnson, and although this story had not developed into the kind of mainstream scandal that they would have liked, I think the Obama campaign isn’t taking any chances with Johnson.
Obama talked about his selection process, and thanked Johnson, “We have a very good selection process under way, and I am confident that it will produce a number of highly qualified candidates for me to choose from in the weeks ahead. I remain grateful to Jim for his service and his efforts in this process.” Johnson was the former chairman of mortgage lender Fannie Mae, and he received help with loans from the CEO of Countrywide, which is currently under federal investigation for their role in the subprime mortgage crisis.
The Obama campaign had at first defended Johnson’s loans as completely legal, but I think that they decided that it wasn’t worth the controversy so Johnson stepped down. What remains to be seen is how this will impact Obama’s search for a running mate. Neither of the other two committee members, Eric Holder and Caroline Kennedy, has any experience conducting this type of search. Johnson brought all the experience as he previously vetted running mates for Walter Mondale and John Kerry.
Obama had originally said that Johnson’s loans shouldn’t be an issue, because he was an unpaid volunteer, who was not assigned a role in a future administration, but I think that the campaign did not want to give McCain ammunition, and risk this blowing up into a major scandal. It can be argued that they learned their lesson from Rev. Wright, and aren’t going to react slowly to potential trouble.
The Johnson problem wasn’t big, but it could have grown, so why take the risk? Plus, the picture of insider deals while people are losing their homes, does not embody the change message that Obama is campaigning on. Obama has taken the moral high ground in this campaign, so he must hold himself and his campaign to a stronger standard. Johnson’s loans might be legal, but those kinds of deals do not reflect the politics of change.