Saturday, December 13, 2008

For Blagojevich, governing is all about No. 1

(Originally published 12/13/08)

An Illinois governor, the subject of a federal investigation, charged with corruption and urged to resign.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich?

Well, yes. But also Gov. George Ryan – the man Blagojevich replaced.

In running to replace Ryan, who would later be sent to federal prison, Blagojevich promised in 2002 to clean up the governor’s office. On the campaign trail, he talked about how he had pledged to his mother that he would always be honest and never take a bribe.

Six years later, it was common knowledge that Blagojevich was under investigation for corruption. But the governor’s quick arrest Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald’s explanation of why it was necessary and Fitzgerald’s presentation of evidence against Blagojevich left the grittiest, most cynical political reporters – even longtime veterans of Chicago’s rough-and-tumble politics – astonished and searching for words.

Don’t worry. Fitzgerald had them covered.

“This is a sad day for government,” Fitzgerald said; Blagojevich was in the middle of a “political corruption crime spree” and “has taken us to a truly new low.”

He described five examples of Blagojevich’s alleged corruption. In addition to the most publicized allegation – that Blagojevich tried to “sell” Barack Obama’s Senate seat to the highest bidder – Fitzgerald described how the governor was caught on tape allegedly exploring ways to pull back $8 million in reimbursement funds for Children’s Memorial Hospital because its CEO had not come through with an expected $50,000 campaign contribution.

Blagojevich has apparently joined the ranks of so many other public officials who have spat in the eyes of those who elected them – not only engaging in illegal and/or improper behavior, but boldly defying anyone to catch them.

Most politicians disgraced this way finally get the message. They resign their posts or drop re-election bids, withdrawing in shame.

But not Blagojevich. This guy redefines overachievement.

The state’s attorney general, the lieutenant governor, all 50 Democratic members of the United States Senate and the president-in-waiting are all urging him to resign. The State Legislature is organizing an impeachment effort while scrambling to pass legislation in a special session that would strip Blagojevich of his ability to appoint Obama’s successor.

But Blagojevich ignores them all. He doesn’t care that he has become politically radioactive. Not even 24 hours after being released on his own recognizance, he went right back to work.

How is this sort of aloofness, this level of personal unassailability possible?

It’s easy to understand if you consider Blagojevich’s governing philosophy, revealed in a recorded conversation on Nov. 12. Prosecutors say Blagojevich told his chief of staff that his decision about Obama’s successor would be based on three criteria and in this order of importance: “Our legal situation, our personal situation, my political situation. This decision, like every other one, needs to be based upon that: Legal. Personal. Political.”

For Rod Blagojevich, governing has never been about anything but himself. We are the aloof ones if we expect that at this late date, even under fire, Blagojevich would actually do anything that is in anyone’s best interest but his own.

In stubbornly clinging to power, he’s sticking right on script.

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