Outside a Chicago courtroom on Tuesday, former Democratic Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich orated what some could remember — anything is possible — as a 21st century “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” fused with the rhetorical stylings of the late, great OJ Simpson attorney Johnnie “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit” Cochran.
“I want the people of Illinois to know, I did not lie to the FBI,” Blagojevich rhymed.
A jury of his peers – if, indeed, a man of Blagojevich’s stature can really have peers – disagreed on that charge, but on the 23 other charges the government tried to nail him for, they could not agree Blago committed any crime. So the one charge U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald was able to get Blago for was lying to federal agents. Launching elaborate cases promising major, earth-shattering convictions only to get a lying charge to stick is something for which Fitzgerald seems to be developing a reputation.
If Rod Blagojevich is anything, he is a modest man, having compared his plight to the travails of Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. But, of course, there is hardly anything comparable between Blago’s tempest and trials of the other men. His is clearly much harsher and crueler – and he has handled his cross with much more grace.
I know I speak for many when I say I don’t want to live in an America that would put Rod Blagojevich in jail. That’s not the America I know and love, the America of Boss Tweed and Huey Long, of backroom deals and colorful politics.
The dark-haired one-time golden boy of Illinois politics should be treated with more respect, more deference. Instead, Blago was, in his words, “persecuted” and prosecuted. But for what?
For allegedly seeking to profit off Barack Obama’s former Senate seat? But even if that were true – and so far the government hasn’t been able to prove their case – why all the fury? Sure, it’s obviously not something we would like our public servants to be doing, but what’s worse? What Blago was accused of doing or selling your vote on a catastrophic health-care bill in exchange for $100 million dollars for your state? What makes your stomach turn more? What has more dire consequences for the country?
I asked Blago in an interview last January what he thought of the fact that he was being prosecuted while stories of senators selling their vote to the highest bidder in the Senate health-care debate were widely discussed in the press without even the idea that such senators should be prosecuted for anything?
“Yes, I am being prosecuted for routine politics and they are not. So yea, it is interesting, isn’t it?” Blago wondered aloud. “So you are asking me when I get prosecuted for this sort of thing and the other aren’t do I think it is hypocritical? It is certainly inconsistent.”
The situations are not, of course, exact parallels. But they aren’t entirely dissimilar either. He has a point, no?
In all seriousness Rod Blagojevich is quite obviously – as anyone who watched him on Donald Trump’s reality show “Celebrity Apprentice” can attest – an articulate incompetent who is not the brightest bulb that has ever shined and very likely not the most ethical politician ever elected to high office. But that, of course, has never been an impediment in American politics to advancement to high office, especially in Illinois.
It remains to be seen whether Blago will go to jail for the one charge he has been convicted of or if on appeal he can beat that charge too. But there is no doubt that Blago’s saga has captivated America’s imagination. Yet, for his tale to be a truly great American story it must include a third act where Blago is given an opportunity for redemption.
If the arc of the moral universe ultimately bends toward justice, as Dr. King once preached, then Rod Blagojevich will get his chance at redemption. Wouldn’t it be something if that chance came in the form of a quixotic primary challenge in 2012 against fellow Chicagoan, and current White House occupant, Barack Obama?
When I spoke to Blagojevich at the beginning of the year he was not too happy with his former constituent, criticizing him harshly from the left. There is no reason to believe his views of the Obama administration have changed much since then. There are definitely also many leftwing activists who are disenchanted with the Obama presidency who would possibly be willing to latch on to a leader willing to stand up for what they truly believe in.
And once he gets his legal troubles behind him, Blago will be looking for something to do, especially if no new reality TV offers come in.
So let the Draft Blago for 2012 campaign begin here. His politics aren’t my cup of tea, but the spectacle of it would just be irresistible. Here’s to Blago for America.