Wednesday, December 10, 2008

If You Were Thrilled by the Edemically Corrupt Bush Administration, You'll Love the Dirty Dealings of "Governor Blago"

When I was a teenager, I had a foster mother, Mildred Mickey, who would sense political corruption in state government just by how its roadways are maintained. If the roads are well taken care of, then the government's honest. If the roads are crap, then the government's endemically corrupt.

Which leads to this stone-cold stunner coming out of the Windy City.

In a move that sent shock waves across Illinois and its ripple effect reaching Washington and the president-elect, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was arrested at his home earlier this morning, as was his Chief of Staff John Harris.

What triggered his arrest was an allegedly brazen scheme to auction off the now-vacated U.S. Senate seat once held by President-elect Barack Obama to the highest bidder.

Blagojevich, 51, also was charged with illegally threatening to withhold state assistance to Tribune Co., the owner of the Chicago Tribune, in the sale of Wrigley Field, according to a federal criminal complaint. In return for state assistance, Blagojevich allegedly wanted members of the paper's editorial board who had been critical of him fired.

But even seasoned federal investigators, who bugged the governor's campaign offices and tapped his home phone, were stunned -- not just by the profanity-laced conversations and tough-guy talk from the governor, but by the sense that Blagojevich had known, or should have known, that for the past three years he was under investigation for alleged hiring fraud and clearly must have realized agents that FBI agents might be listening in.

The FBI stated in court papers that the governor was overheard conspiring to sell the Senate seat for campaign cash or lucrative jobs for himself or his wife, Patti, a real estate agent. He spoke of using the Senate appointment to land a job with a nonprofit foundation or a union-affiliated group, and even held out hope of getting appointed as Obama's secretary of health and human services or an ambassador. Moreover, Blagojevich tried to make it known through emissaries, including union officials and fundraisers, that the Senate seat could be had for the right price.

In other words, a pay-for-play scheme, plain and simple.

Many in Illinois political circles, including senior Senator Dick Durbin (D) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D), have called for Blagojevich's resignation. Absent that, the Illinois state government should launch impeachment proceedings. And they were quick to point out that anyone appointed to the seat by Blagojevich would not enjoy political legitimacy and that the taint by association would be damning.

Even as the GOP tried to use the old guilt-by-association tricj to tie Obama to the belaguered Blagojevich, the U.S. Attorney's Office was quick to point out that Obama refused to play ball with Blagojevich. In fact, Blagojevich's disdain for Obama was made clear in court documents, as he is quoted as using the F-word to descrive the president-elect in one phone conversation recorded by the FBI.

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who successfully prosecuted former Bush administration hackey "Scooter" Libby and headed the current investigation, described --in his own words -- Blagojevich's alleged actions would "make (Abraham) Lincoln roll over in his grave."

Fitzgerald is a straight-shooter with a great bullshit detector -- he can tell if someone's urinating on his leg and telling him it's raining. And it's independent-minded prosecutors like him that gave the partisans in the Bush administration fits.

Even as I write this while burining the midnight oil, Blagojevich's poltiical epitaph, if not his political obituary, is being finalized/ As Beau Freidlander sadly noted in the Huffington Post:

"While Governor Rod Blagojevich was whining about a $300K per annum job with the SEIU and trying to get his wife a gig for about half that, these workers have become an international symbol of grit amid global hard times. As we head into Christmas, the two million Americans who have already lost their jobs since the recession began a year ago now have something to root for in Chicago.

Rod Blagojevich had eyes on a bright horizon that had everything to do with his needs and nothing to do with the needs of the people he was elected to represent. He could have been a hero in his home town. Now he's a disgrace. It seems to be a common narrative these days.

And as for "Governor Blago," if he had any sense of decency -- which is now questionable at best, he would spare the people of Illinois further melodrama and resign immediately. But then, he probably lost all sense of decency a long time ago.

In the meantime, it's time to throw a blanket over the Governor's mansion over in Springfield and start fumigating.

What next? Congressional seats auctioned off to the highest bidder on eBay?

12/11/2008 UPDATE: There is now a consesus amongst the body politic that Blago should do the right thing for once and resign immediately.

In the meantime, Rosa Brooks offers a cautionary treatsie in today's Los Angeles Times:

Blagojevich's downfall should be a cautionary tale for Democrats still basking in the reflected glory of Obama's win. It's a reminder that even at this magic moment of victory and party unity -- even as the Clinton lions are lying down with the Obama lambs, and as Democratic dreams of vast infrastructure investments and a renewed commitment to international diplomacy are coming true -- powerful Democrats aren't immune to human weaknesses.

Idiocy and greed aren't just for Republicans. For every Larry Craig, there's an Eliot Spitzer; for every Ted Stevens, there's a Rod Blagojevich.

In our heads, we Democrats know that. It's just that in our hearts, we don't want to believe it. Because we're the good guys, right? The ones who honed our progressive values during years in the political wilderness and who finally saw those values vindicated in November's electoral victories.

But it's precisely when a party achieves power that its members need to start worrying the most about idiocy and greed. When you're in the opposition, you're already down and out, so what difference does it make if your side's idiocy leaves you -- temporarily -- a little bit more down and out? And being in the opposition offers fewer patronage opportunities.

But power really does corrupt.

I'm not predicting a rash of new Blagojevich-type scandals plaguing the new administration. The Obama transition team has already issued unusually stringent ethics rules, and Obama's track record of supporting tough ethics legislation (including an Illinois state ethics law) suggests that he'll continue such efforts as president.

But illegal corruption isn't the only thing Democrats should be on guard against. Gaining political power also corrupts in far more subtle ways.

Members of political majorities succumb easily to smugness and complacency, to the conviction that explaining and justifying ideas is no longer necessary, to the temptation to dismiss critics as so many irrelevant cranks. "Groupthink" is mainly a disease of the powerful and complacent, not the fractious opposition.

Never mind Blagojevich. Majorities can get very dumb indeed -- and what the new Democratic majority most needs to resist are those more subtle forms of intellectual and moral laziness and corruption. For in the end, arrogance and groupthink can prove far more lethal than even the most scandalous financial shenanigans.

Just ask the thousands dead in Iraq.

And blogger Leutisha Stills (aka The Christian Progressive Liberal) takes note of Blago channeling Jennifer Holiday belting "And I'm Tellling You I'm Not Going" in the jackandjillpolitics.comblog:

I don’t get it.

If you’re arrested by the Fibbies, and you’re caught dead to rights on tape trying to shakedown the incoming President of the United States for fun and profit; annnnd, you’re an elected official who’s arrested by the Fibbies and caught on tape engaging in an attempted shakedown of the incoming President of the United States for fun and profit, you’re supposed to step down before you get forced out of office.

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich doesn’t seem to get it:

CHICAGO – His career in shreds, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich clung defiantly to power Wednesday, ignoring a call to step down from President-elect Barack Obama and a warning that Senate Democrats will not let him appoint a new senator from the state.

According to his handlers, if Blago resigns, it makes him look guilty:

His attorney said Tuesday that he is innocent, and a resignation might make him appear guilty. The office also gives him a certain amount of clout, which can help him raise money for his defense. And he may need the salary — federal prosecutors say their wiretaps also caught Blagojevich complaining about his financial problems.

What? You can’t make it on $300K a year? Boo freaking Hoo on that one. The fact that the Fibbies arrested you and hauled you off to jail DOESN’T make you look guilty, but resigning your office DOES?

I’m getting a headache from all this.

Meanwhile, numerous political commentators and bloggers have compared Governor Blago's obscenity-filled wiretapped conversations to the profane poetry of a David Manet play. When approached to comment on this phenomenon, Manet had this to say in the Huffington Post:

"I am from Chicago, and, so, having been disillusioned with politics at an early age I do not become involved. The only reason I vote is because they pay me."

It doesn't take much to make one a cynic.

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