By Marie Cocco
I am supposed to be typing out words that articulate a highly audible and terribly alarmed tsk tsk. Instead, I am laughing with unrestrained amusement at the farce that Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has engineered for what looks to be the flamboyant coda to his undistinguished career.
Honestly, I haven’t had this much fun since New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s implosion and resignation from office in a scandal involving his patronage of high-end prostitutes.
Democrats dutifully wring their hands over the political fix the ethically challenged Blagojevich has created in naming Roland Burris to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama. Why, the Illinois governor—target of a federal investigation into his alleged effort to sell the Senate vacancy to the highest bidder—outwitted some of Washington’s canniest political foxes in using his perfectly legal authority to appoint not just a politician who seems legitimately entitled to take the seat, but an African-American as well.
A cacophony of issues and events more rightfully demands our attention and concern—the resumption of war between Israel and the Palestinians, the worst economic crisis in decades, the upcoming inauguration of the nation’s first black president. Still, I’ll own up to an unseemly sentiment: Blagojevich and the chaos he has cunningly provoked are blessings from the media gods.
There is nothing quite like the spectacle of scandal to remind journalists why we got into this business to start with. Yes, most reporters are inspired by the urge to serve the public, to expose governmental wrongs, and through good work—and no small dose of good luck—to help right them.
But there is also the matter of wanting to have more fun at work than, say, your average tax attorney. For this, the amusement provided by incandescent political egos is an enduring perk of the job.
The Blagojevich imbroglio already has provided us with an FBI affidavit in the case that reads like a script for “The Sopranos.” The taped conversations Blagojevich had about getting people to cough up the goods—money, a job for him or his wife or any other plausible emolument—are likely to become the hot soundtrack of any eventual trial. Not since Rep. Richard Kelly of Florida was caught on an FBI videotape stuffing $25,000 in cash into his pockets during the long-ago Abscam probe has evidence been so entertaining.
Now, it turns out, there also is a possibility that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid—who says, at least for the moment, that he won’t seat Burris because of the taint surrounding the appointment—may himself have been recorded. The Chicago Sun-Times has reported that Reid told Blagojevich in a phone conversation that he worried about whether several potential African-American appointees would be able to mount successful statewide campaigns to retain the seat for Democrats.
This one has it all: The corruption in Illinois that is so blatant it strains credulity. The incendiary racial politics played openly, if clumsily, by Blagojevich, Burris and assorted hangers-on who seek to embarrass Obama or Democrats generally. The exquisite hypocrisy of Senate Democrats suddenly finding their moral voices in a controversy that amounts to a spat over who can gain membership in their coveted club.
These are the same Senate Democrats who, as a group, went along with the most amoral endeavors the Bush administration could cook up—everything from the Iraq invasion to spying on Americans without warrants to showering the wealthy with expensive tax breaks. So now they’re worried about a taint on the Senate caused by penny-ante politics?
Republicans find themselves in the auspicious position of getting to argue for the good-government solution: filling the Illinois seat through a special election. Of course this election would, in theory, give the GOP a fighting chance of winning the seat that it has not the slightest hope of gaining through an appointment by Blagojevich, or any Democratic governor who might succeed him. Those searching for purity of motive need not look here.
The righteous howl with disapproval at the entire episode and hope that, for the sake of the country, someone finds a reasonable and quick solution to the improbable standoff. Not me. The country—indeed the Senate—has survived worse shenanigans and somehow the republic has survived.
This convoluted drama may be unfolding in what seems like a theater of the absurd. But it is riotously good fun nonetheless.
Marie Cocco’s e-mail address is mariecocco(at)washpost.com.
© 2009, Washington Post Writers Group