Chris Dodd’s Loan Problem

A campaign blog.
July 11 2008 12:40 PM

Chris Dodd’s Loan Problem

On the surface, Chris Dodd is the perfect vice presidential candidate for Barack Obama. He’s Catholic, while Obama has struggled to win over Catholics. He speaks fluent Spanish, which could help among Latinos. He’s a veteran, just like you-know-who. Jews love him—his father was on the prosecution team at Nuremberg. He sits on the Senate foreign relations committee, which could quiet critics who see Obama as green on foreign policy. His biggest legislative accomplishment, the Family and Medical Leave Act , dovetails nicely with Obama’s health care plans. The man is experience incarnate.

It’s too bad he probably won’t be picked.

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Remember Jim Johnson, the guy in charge of Obama’s VP search committee? Johnson resigned last month under fire for receiving reduced-rate loans from Countrywide, a company criticized for its role in the mortgage crisis. It turns out Dodd was also part of the same "V.I.P." program, which cuts rates and eliminates fees for special customers. In 2003, Dodd received two loans through Countrywide, saving a little under $3,000 thanks to the program, according to Portfolio . Countrywide has contributed $21,000 to Dodd’s campaigns since 1997.

Obama set a precedent by scrapping Johnson. (Johnson says he resigned of his own free will.) How can he possibly pick Dodd? If sweetheart loans are enough to disqualify the person appointed to pick the VP, what does it mean for the VP himself?

To be sure, Dodd is not Johnson. The size of Johnson’s Countrywide deal—he received $7 million in real-estate loans—dwarfs Dodd’s. Johnson was also criticized for perks he received while working for mortgage giant Fannie Mae (which now has its own crisis ) and for his association with an executive compensation controversy and United HealthCare, where he served on the board.

But in a campaign that has made common practice of subvehicularization, also known as "throwing under the bus," even the smallest impropriety is cause for concern. After his Countrywide loans were first reported, Dodd denied any wrongdoing. But it’s just sketchy enough that the McCain campaign could create headaches for Obama.

Plus, vice presidential selection is all about judgment—proving to voters that you know how to make tough decisions. And sound judgment is just as much about avoiding appearances of impropriety as avoiding impropriety itself. (Something McCain learned the hard way .) Chris Dodd could make a terrific vice president. But that’s different from making a terrific vice-presidential candidate.

Christopher Beam is a writer living in Beijing.

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