The word of the day seems to be "stupid." That's the general consensus regarding the corruption scandal of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, that he's an idiot. You'd think the first clue would've been his hair; he looks like he got stuck halfway in a morph between The Monkees' Mike Nesmith and Donald Trump. But, if the hair wasn't a giveaway, his actions sure were.
"Blagojevich, it seems, figured he was a Master of the Universe, immune from the scrutiny he should have known he was under," writes CNN's Gloria Borger. "Of course, the feds were listening. Sad for the governor, the wiretaps that prosecutors detailed reveal a stunning and disgusting portrayal of a pol trying to extract personal gain from almost anyone -- whether a potential Senate candidate, a children's hospital or a newspaper."
Why would the feds be listening? Because Blagojevich was already under investigation. And he knew it. The feds were hot on his trail and the governor acted as if everyone thinks he's a solid citizen. As I say, the word of the day is "stupid."
Or "crazy." In February, Chicago Magazine ran a profile of Blagojevich that suggested (actually, more than suggested) that he was a little goofy in the head:
The governor's strange behavior has been fertile ground for local armchair psychologists. Last summer, the downstate newspaper the Peoria Journal Star declared that the governor was "going bonkers." Privately, a few people who know the governor describe him as a "sociopath," and they insist they're not using hyperbole. State representative Joe Lyons, a fellow Democrat from Chicago, told reporters that Blagojevich was a "madman" and "insane." "He shows absolutely no remorse," says Jack Franks, the Democratic state representative. "I don't think he gives a damn about anybody else's feelings. He tries to demonize people who disagree with him; he's got delusions of grandeur."
[Rich Miller, who writes the insider's newsletter/blog Capitol Fax] points out that people shouldn't blame Blagojevich's lousy governing skills on his personality alone: "You can be insane -- totally whacked out psychologically -- and be a good governor or a good president."
I'd like to see evidence of that claim, since Gov. Blagojevich -- like Richard Nixon and, perhaps, George W. Bush -- doesn't exactly prove that hypothesis. I have yet to see an example of a good Caligula.
It's actually hard to write about this at this point, because there are so many holes in the story. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has released a 78 page criminal complaint that mentions few people other than Blagojevich by name. What's clear is that he was trying to play some weird chess game, with Barack Obama's vacated senate seat as his queen. It was his duty to appoint Obama's successor and he wanted something -- anything -- for that appointment from anyone who could give it to him. "Maybe an ambassadorship," says Borger. "Maybe an appointment as Health and Human Services secretary -- a 'trade' as he put it. Or maybe Energy, a loyal aide suggested, because that department is 'the one that makes the most money.'" He wasn't exactly clear on what he wanted, he just wanted something.
Some are already trying to use the Blagojevich scandal as evidence that Barack Obama is a dirty politician. People like the entire Republican party. Based on one quote from Obama in 2006 -- "We've got a governor in Rod Blagojevich who has delivered consistently on behalf of the people of Illinois" -- the GOP is trying to portray Gov. Caligula and Obama as coconspirators. The junior senator from Illinois once said something nice about the governor -- how unprecedented! "That isn't much at all," reports Greg Sargent. "Though Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett is in the midst of the case as the candidate Obama reportedly wanted for the Senate seat, there's no suggestion of any wrongdoing on her part."
Writing for The Nation, John Nichols says:
Intriguingly, one of the charges against Blagojevich is that he demanded appointment for himself as Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Obama administration -- apparently in return for appointing a senator who would be to the president-elect's liking. That raises the prospect that either Obama or members of his transition team may have cooperated into the federal investigation of the governor's activities. Certainly, Obama fans will hope this turns out to have been the case.
In any case, the idea that Obama is tied into this in any way is made laughable by Fitzgerald's complaint. Barack Obama may have said something nice about Blagojevich once, but Blagojevich has nothing nice to say about Obama. Fitz has him on tape saying of the transition team, "[T]hey're not willing to give me anything except appreciation. F**k them." Doesn't exactly sound like a partnership in crime, does it?
In fact, some speculate it was Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who tipped off the feds. It's probably not true, but you never know. Either way, it's not as if Blagojevich needed Obama's assistance or even cooperation in his big, half-baked plan to use the seat to somehow enrich himself. The appointment was his alone to make, he didn't need any help -- he just needed someone willing to pay for it somehow. From everything I've read, he was having a little trouble with that part of his grand strategy.
The thing is, Blagojevich is still the governor, so the appointment is still his to make. There are the predictable calls for him to resign, but he seems like such a dick that I can't see him leaving until he's thrown out. Some see a remedy for this predicament:
Don’t trust the governor. Let the voters decide.
That was the message of U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin on Tuesday as he called for the state Legislature to order a special election to fill President-elect Barack Obama’s vacant U.S. Senate seat, rather than allow Gov. Blagojevich to pick a replacement.
"No appointment by this governor, under these circumstances, could produce a credible replacement," Durbin said. Seems reasonable to me. Whether it's legally possible might be another question, I don't know. But unless it's absolutely proscribed by the state constitution, I think that's probably the best way to go. When the governor can't be trusted, let democracy do it.
If Blagojevich is as stupid and crazy as his alleged crime (I say "alleged," but it looks like an airtight case), then not only Illinois, but the nation, would suffer from any appointment he made. It could be the finest senator to ever serve and that taint of corruption would still follow them around. It doesn't seem fair to the eventual senator in even in the best possible scenario. The worst possible scenario is that Blagojevich would appoint some corrupt crony.
But if the voters choose Barack Obama's replacement, the legitimacy is restored. Every problem has a reasonable solution and any solution that hinges on democracy is a pretty solid one in my book.
The word of the day may be "stupid," but that doesn't mean the way out of the problem has to be.