The Curse of Illinois

The Blagojevich affair and Barack Obama

"Politics in Louisiana is as clean as an angel's ghost."—Louisiana Sen. Huey Long, in 1934.

"I don't believe there's any cloud that hangs over me, I think there's nothing but sunshine hanging over me."—Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, the day before he and his chief of staff were arrested on federal charges of bribery and wire fraud.

Politics in Illinois, as in Louisiana, has always been more evocative of devils than angels. During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama's critics said he was a typical product of a seamy political culture. The arrest of Blagojevich, a fellow Democrat, validates the claims about Illinois. It also gives Obama a chance to prove he has managed to tiptoe through the sewer without getting dirty.

Except for something that took place in 2001, this expose might not have happened. The event was President Bush's appointment, on the recommendation of Illinois Republican Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, of Patrick Fitzgerald as U.S. attorney for the northern district of Illinois.

The veteran prosecutor was an unlikely choice for the job, since he grew up in New York and spent his entire career there. But Sen. Fitzgerald didn't trust anyone homegrown to attack the corruption that has long infected Illinois government and politics. Patrick Fitzgerald was the best outsider he could find.

Oddly enough, Blagojevich owes his rise to the U.S. attorney's pursuit of graft. It was Fitzgerald who convicted several associates of Gov. George Ryan. Ryan opened the door for Blagojevich by deciding, with his own indictment looming, not to run again. After winning the 2002 Democratic primary, Blagojevich then had the good fortune to face a Republican challenger cursed to be named...Ryan.

Three of the last eight Illinois governors have served time in prison. So the stunning part is not that Blagojevich may be flamboyantly dishonest, but that he is such a dunce. When Obama vacated his Senate seat, the governor clumsily maneuvered to trade it for something he wanted—a Cabinet post, a job for his wife, campaign contributions, or a sinecure in the private sector—even though he knew he was under federal investigation.

More bizarre still was his alleged plan for better press coverage—demanding that Tribune Co. fire the Chicago Tribune editorial board in exchange for state help in the sale of Wrigley Field. As a member of said board, I'm glad that someone thinks newspapers are not obsolete.

He's not the first elected official to try to squeeze the Tribune. My former editor Jack Fuller recalls that when Jane Byrne was mayor in the 1980s, she came in to talk to the editorial board, which had been critical of her, and announced that the Tribune had certain things it wanted (some permits related to a new printing plant) and she had certain things she wanted (presumably, more favorable treatment). The publisher replied that she was out of line and suggested that she start over with her presentation.

When the Tribune-owned Chicago Cubs wanted permission to install lights at Wrigley Field, Ald. Ed Vrdolyak let it be known it would require an end to editorial criticism of him. An editorial responded that the Cubs would "be playing morning games on a sandlot in Gary first." Vrdolyak—this will surprise you—is now headed for prison, another victim of Fitzgerald.

But even the most hardened locals could not have imagined the latest tale. Fitzgerald said Blagojevich's alleged conduct "would make Lincoln roll over in his grave." Forget Lincoln. It would make Bonnie and Clyde flip their coffins.

What does all this have to do with Obama? As president, he can exercise the customary prerogative of replacing all U.S. attorneys with his own appointees. During the campaign, he indicated he was willing to leave Fitzgerald in place. But he is bound to come under pressure from politicians back home to name someone less obsessive about official vice.

Until this week, that option might have been appealing, since the resulting controversy would have been of interest only in Chicagoland. But now it has become a matter for national attention. For Obama to cashier Fitzgerald would make him look complicit in corruption.

In truth, the Blagojevich affair gives Obama the perfect excuse to do the right thing, no matter what the cost to his political friends. Then, for a change, the sun will keep shining on Illinois.

COPYRIGHT 2008 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.

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  • Shabbos S. Shabazz||

    Certainly the messiah will not be implicated no matter what happens. The Obamabots will not tolerate any criticism of their dear leader. My prediction is that all the controversy will slough off of him like dead skin and leave him sparkling and shiny clean.

    Besides, they've got the perfect fall guy! He's even a Serb, for goodness sake! Aren't they the choice demons for the bourgeois liberal and neocon elite?

  • Elemenope||

    Joe Klein I think summed it up pretty well.

    "Blagojevich is from Illinois. Hey, guess what? Obama is from Illinois!! Coincidence?? Highly unlikely! I mean, wow!"

    That's approximately as stupid as one can get with stuff like this.

    It even has less to do with whether or not Obama is corrupt. He isn't stupid enough to get embroiled in a senate-seat selling scheme with a guy who can't fucking keep his mouth shut for two little minutes. So, whatever you might think of Obama, it is still unbelievably unlikely he would be involved.

  • Great||

    hair.

  • ||

    If they pull a knife,you pull a gun.They send one of your's to the hospital, you send one of their's to the morgue.That's the Chicago way.

  • Mister DNA||

    He might be a shitty governor, but I kinda liked him in those Substitute sequels.

    Prince of the City was badass, too.

  • </||

    Obama might be clean (and articulate!) on the Blagojevich affair but I bet someone in his transition/administration is going down over this.Pray it is Rahm.

  • ||

    He might be a shitty governor, but I kinda liked him in those Substitute sequels.

    Tangentially, I know the guy who wrote The Substitute series through a friend.

  • Bob W||

    Talking to Blago in the last 30 days or so about that vacant Senate Seat= bad idea.

  • Mike M.||

    I'll acknowledge that there's no proof (yet) whatsoever on Obama about anything, and there's some possibility that he really moved his way up through that cesspool in a squeaky clean manner.

    I have to say though, for a guy whose sycophants would have us believe is one of the smartest men in the world, it's amazing how he never seems to know anything at all about the people moving in his circle or what's going on all around him. It's like we've elected Chauncey Gardiner president.

  • ||

    Obama would never be involved in something like this because he'd never be involved in something like this.

  • Citizen Nothing||

    SF channeling joe. Scary.

  • ||

    I'm torn. I don't know whether Obama should keep Fitzgerald where he is, or promote him.

    Does FBI Director outrank United State Attorney?

    Is there an appropriate Deputy Attorney General position for an investigator like this?

    How about Justice Department IG?

  • ||

    Obama would never be involved in something like this because he'd never be involved in something like this.

    Inescapable logic. Take that, Obama detractors!

  • sage||

    Obama is said to be "appalled," and is on his way to fuel up the outrage machine. He'd better put the cigarette out first.

  • PC||

    One million dollars is a lot of "change".

  • ||

    I don't understand the Republican's logic on this. Coming from a corrupt political culture means that you are a corrupt politician. This coming on the heels of having a VP candidate that came from one of two states that's political culture can be in the same conversation as Illinois for most corrupt (LA being the other). Politics asides, shouldn't we see if Obama's done anything, because so far it looks like he decided not to pay to play with Blagojevich.

    Sidenote: Props to Fitzgerald for propnouncing it correctly 5 times in a row during that press conference. Well played.

  • Elemenope||

    Obama would never be involved in something like this because he'd never be involved in something like this.

    Even Nixon wouldn't be involved in something like this. At least, not traceably. When he ordered the Watergate break-in, I'm pretty sure he didn't do it over the fucking phone. (His only mistake was relying upon an untenable interpretation of executive privilege; arrogant, but not strictly stupid.)

  • ||

    I like the way that being familiar with the fact that the tapes prove Obama wasn't involved, and knowing that Fitzgerald himself has said Obama isn't involved, is supposed to be some kind of act of partisan blindness.

    While a studied ignorance of these facts is supposed to be an act of keeping an open mind.

    Can you imagine what the above commenters would be saying if there had been a tape of Charles Keating cursing out John McCain for not playing ball, and some blogger had written "I know there's no proof yet that McCain was involved...?"

    This is ridiculous.

  • ||

    Also, does this mean Jindal is automatically a corrupt pol?

  • ||

    I don't understand the Republican's logic on this. Coming from a corrupt political culture means that you are a corrupt politician. This coming on the heels of having a VP candidate that came from one of two states that's political culture can be in the same conversation as Illinois for most corrupt (LA being the other).

    Maybe if there was tape of Ted Stevens cursing out Sarah Palin for refusing to pay him a bribe, THEN they'd consider her corrupt.

    Seriously, that's the logic here.

  • ||

    Ele,

    I was really more making fun of the partisan "Obama has to be dirty because he came from Chicago" vs. "Obama is the light and joy of the world" arguments. The truth is somewhere in the middle of those two extremes.

  • PC||

    "Maybe if there was tape of Ted Stevens cursing out Sarah Palin for refusing to pay him a bribe, THEN they'd consider her corrupt."

    Or if she decided not to disclose a solicitation of a bribe by Stevens that he was actively seeking from all intereted parties. Because that would be a crime.

  • still chuckling||


    I have to say though, for a guy whose sycophants would have us believe is one of the smartest men in the world, it's amazing how he never seems to know anything at all about the people moving in his circle or what's going on all around him. It's like we've elected Chauncey Gardiner president.


    Thank you for that, it's really funny!

  • Elemenope||

    I was really more making fun of the partisan "Obama has to be dirty because he came from Chicago" vs. "Obama is the light and joy of the world" arguments. The truth is somewhere in the middle of those two extremes.

    Ah. In that case, I agree.

  • Warty||

    That's the guy? He looks like he should be crooning easy listening love songs while wearing bell bottoms.

  • ||

    "Talking to Blago in the last 30 days or so about that vacant Senate Seat"

    Actually, that's probably the best time, because the FBI would have it on tape and be able to distinguish legal discussions from illegal discussions.

    It's not inherently illegal to talk to Blago about the vacant Senate seat. What is said is what matters. There's nothing wrong with saying "Hey Blago, I'd like you to consider appointing Ed DeBevic to my former Senate seat. He's a good egg."

  • ||

    Interesting that news articles contradicting Obama's recent claim that he never talked with Blago about his successor are now going down the memory hole.

  • ||

    Warty: I keep thinking of San Francisco's late, unlamented Dan White. It's the hair.

  • nonPaulogist||

    The Governor needs to quit going to Nick Gillespie's barber.

  • ||

    But as Steve Chapman writes, it also gives Obama a chance to prove he has managed to tiptoe through the sewer without getting dirty.



    I see that Steve is still hoping for a pony for Christmas.

  • ||

    So Fitzgerald thinks that the conduct of Blajoevich "would make Lincoln roll over in his grave". So the guy that decides to plunge his country into a bloodbath, personally overseers the planning and details of the total war he authorized his hoodlums to unleash on civilians and had people incarcerated, deported and killed for disagreeing with him, is supposed to be troubled by a governor looking for a little payola?

  • clock watcher||

    Interesting that news articles contradicting Obama's recent claim that he never talked with Blago about his successor are now going down the memory hole.

    There seems to be quite a history of inconvenient items disappearing from Obama's web site, doesn't there?

  • ||

    I don't think the disappearing new stories implicate Obama, but it should put to rest the silly notion that the media is an objective source of news and a legitimate check against the government.

  • ||

    I was really more making fun of the partisan "Obama has to be dirty because he came from Chicago" vs. "Obama is the light and joy of the world" arguments. The truth is somewhere in the middle of those two extremes.

    That's where I am. I've seen no reason to change my opinion of Obama as being ethically inert.

    Nice summary of Obama's close relationship with the Illinois machine and disinclination to take it on here.

    My take? Obama's hands are clean on the sale of the Senate seat, not because of his keen nose for, and visceral hatred of, unethical dealings, but because there really wasn't anything in it for him.

  • Mike M.||

    Thank you for that, it's really funny!

    Hey, no problem. The next four years will be nothing if not entertaining.

  • Geotpf||

    Blago said Obama wouldn't play ball-and called him a motherfucker for not doing so.

    The only bad thing I see Obama and his team doing is making a mess of whether or not there were any contacts at all. It looks like Blago told Team Obama "Gimme stuff for your pick", and Team Obama told Blago to stick it where the sun don't shine-which is great on Obama's part. But Team Obama is now saying they never even talked to Blago. Don't lie about stuff you don't need to. Of course, I'm assuming Blago actually talked to somebody in Obama's camp, which hasn't been proven. Even it he had, it wouldn't be illegal, assuming Obama did tell Blago to go fuck himself.

    Now, it might be that Blago tried to shake down Obama, Obama said no-and went to Fitzgerald, who told Obama not to tell anybody that such a meeting took place. Or maybe Obama's rep actually wore a wire or otherwise actively helped the investigation, and that needs to be hidden for now. This puts Obama in a bad situation, of course.

  • ||

    "Not involved in corruption" translates to "the light and joy of the world?"

    Wow. I did not know that.

  • ||

    Or if she decided not to disclose a solicitation of a bribe by Stevens that he was actively seeking from all intereted parties. Because that would be a crime.

    Yes, if both elements were met: 1) she knew about a solicitation of a bribe and 2) didn't report it.

    Patrick Fitzgerald stated yesterday that he has no evidence that Barack Obama knew anything about this.

  • ||

    I haven't seen shit that indicates Obama is a corrupt Chicago pol. I don't like his policy prescriptions, but that hardly translates to corrupt.

    OTOH, his campaign co-chairman ...

    "I never sent a message or an emissary to the governor to make an offer, plead my case or propose a deal about a U.S. Senate seat, period," Jackson said.

    Still, newly hired lawyer James Montgomery Sr. of Chicago said he could not rule out that such possibilities were discussed with Blagojevich by people who did not have his client's blessing.

    "Politicians and fundraisers do some very strange things from time to time, and I wouldn't put it past someone to be purporting to represent Jesse without authority," Montgomery said.


    sound suspicious as hell.

  • Appearance of Impropriety||

    The real question here is what did Obama know and when did he know it?
    Answers should be forthcoming post-haste and these lies emanating from the "Obama camp" should not be tolerated. Obama might be "articulate" but he isn't looking very "clean" about now.

  • sage||

    Patrick Fitzgerald stated yesterday that he has no evidence that Barack Obama knew anything about this.

    "Has no evidence" translates to "There is no evidence."

    Wow. I did not know that.

  • Elemenope||

    "Has no evidence" translates to "There is no evidence."

    Personally, till today I had no idea it also translates to "presumed guilty". You guys teach me new stuff all the time.

  • -||

    There is validity in saying that Obama came from the CHI/IL political machine that spawned Gov B. Is he tainted by that political machine? Maybe, maybe not, there's no particular clear evidence either way at this point. This particular thing seemed to be limited to a governor thing though. The fact that the Gov apparently sees nothing wrong with this is a strong statement on the ethics of the CHI/IL political machine, but I don't think anyone is surprised by that.

  • Mike M.||

    Obama might be "articulate" but he isn't looking very "clean" about now.

    He isn't even all that articulate, except for when he's giving a prepared speech.

    He doesn't mangle words and syntax like our current bumbler, but it seems like every third or fourth word out of his mouth is a "uh" or an "um".

  • BDB||

    I'll take the "uhs" over "my friends" or "new-ku-lahr".

  • ||

    A few more points:

    - It is possible that Carol Sowers was pulling a Stephen Glass and reporting on a meeting that didn't happen. But then why the earlier Axelrod statement that Obama and Blago had discussed things?

    - If anyone believes that a sharp political operator like Obama didn't discuss, in the months following the election, the selection of his replacement with the guy who would do the selecting, I have a bridge to sell.

    - Is it a crime to not report an attempted bribe?

  • ||

    I haven't seen shit that indicates Obama is a corrupt Chicago pol.

    There is that shady land deal with convicted felon Rezko, but I haven't seen any quid for that . I just chalk it up as more evidence of Obama's ethical inertness.

    I wouldn't put it past someone to be purporting to represent Jesse without authority

    This one, I file under "protesting too much." Getting their defense in place nice and early, no?

  • ||

    "Has no evidence" translates to "There is no evidence."

    Since he's been wiretapping the guy's phones, yeah, not having evidence = there is no evidence.

    Anyway, shouldn't the burden of proof be on the people trying to prove an affirmative statement, rather than insisting that a negative be proven? "Well, ok, the evidence isn't on the wiretaps, but maybe there's a note stashed in a plush toy!"

    You know what evidence there is? Rod Blagojevich ranting that Barack Obama wouldn't give him anything. But we're supposed to ignore this, because there could theoretically be evidence of something somewhere?

  • ||

    Is he tainted by that political machine? Maybe, maybe not, there's no particular clear evidence either way at this point.

    Actually, there's Rod Blagojevich ranting in a hilariously profane manner about how Obama won't engage in a corrupt act.

    There's also the fact, as reported in yesterday's NYT, that Obama called the President of the Illinois Senate and convinced him to support Blageojevich's veto of a camapaign finance which, which apparantly motivated the governor to grab all the cash he could before the New Year, in such an egregious manner that Patrick Fitzgerald was able to show probable cause for a wiretap.

    So, he wouldn't go along with a corrupt act, and he pushed for reforms which were opposed by the Governor and Senate President of Illinois.

    That's not nothing.

  • Rezko says so||

    We know Obama's spokespeople are lying on "the one"'s meeting/talking with Blagojevich.What do they have to hide? Obama owes it to the country to come clean, and in an articulate manner.

  • Barack Obama||

    I'm a reformer with results. You might say that I'm something of a maverick as well.

  • ||

    So Obama convinced his corrupt political mentor to support a bill? I'll agree that's not nothing, but it's damn little.

  • ||

    RC,
    That Journal article you link to has nothing against Obama and then downplays anything positive he did. Not surprising considering the source, but it's nothing but rumor and conjecture. Very weak rumor and conjecture.

  • ||

    Personally, till today I had no idea it also translates to "presumed guilty". You guys teach me new stuff all the time.




    Oh, I get it

  • ||

    Personally, till today, I didn't know that "strawman" translated to "stating explicitly an argument that others make by implication because they know how weak it is."

  • ||

    Get a grip, Joe. You don't need to start defending Obama yet, because nobody has made an accusation of law-breaking (here in this thread at this site right now). Peter saying he has no evidence means he isn't commenting on hearsay. It does not suggest that if he had evidence that would be evidence of a crime. The post at 2:49 was a classic strawman - nobody came close to suggesting Obama is "presumed guilty" of any crime or even of a direct lie.

    Obama has since given the game away anyway. You can pretty much assume his staff talked to Blago (maybe you disagree?):

    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/washington/2008/12/obama-transcrip.html

    Q: Have you ever spoken to [Illinois] Gov. [Rod R.] Blagojevich (photo left) about the Senate seat?

    O: I have not discussed the Senate seat with the governor at any time. My strong belief is that it needed to be filled by somebody who is going to represent the people of Illinois and fight for them. And beyond that, I was focused on the transition.

    Q: And that was before and after the election?

    O: Yes.

    Q: Are you aware of any conversations between Blagojevich or [chief of staff] John Harris and any of your top aides, including Rahm [Emanuel]?

    O: Let me stop you there because . . . it's an ongoing....

    ...investigation. I think it would be inappropriate for me to, you know, remark on the situation beyond the facts that I know. And that's the fact that I didn't discuss this issue with the governor at all.




    ^^^^that would be a "yes"

  • Barry||

    I'm from New Orleans and now live in Chicago...Louisiana already has a governor in prison: Edwin Edwards. I once voted for him, only because he was running against David Duke. (there were bumper-stickers that said "VOTE FOR THE CROOK".

  • Kuda Bux||

    Shabbos S Shabazz:

    You stole my name, which I used to use only on VanguardNewsNetwork. I would never post on a PC site like this.

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