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The disgraced Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich refuses to obey his script. Democrats wanted to shame him into inaction until the state legislature impeached him and this blot on the new era of Democratic politics could be erased.
But why would the intrepid Blago do that, especially when Democrats left in his hands the very power to appoint a U.S. senator that was at the root of his most spectacularly corrupt schemes? At the same time that Democrats ranted about Blagojevich’s moral turpitude, they let him keep a loaded political gun and simply trusted that their admonitions would prevent him from pointing it at anyone.
Sure enough, the delightfully shameless governor strode into a press conference, waved the gun around, and then blasted away — and Democrats have no one but themselves to blame. They could have taken the appointment power away from Blagojevich by passing a law providing for a special election to fill Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat. Illinois’s senior senator, Dick Durbin, initially favored a special election, and Blagojevich said he’d go along.
Then, a bone-chilling realization set in — the Democratic brand in Illinois had been so sullied that a Republican might win an election. Such are the risks when consulting voters about who should represent them. Better to push Blago aside and let the Democratic lieutenant government make the selection. But the appointment power had to be preserved, lest there be no guarantee a Democrat would fill Obama’s seat.
The plan worked, sort of: A Democratic has been appointed for the seat. Only the appointee is has-been Illinois politico Roland Burris, who in the past decade has spent down his reputation as an African-American pioneer in a bootless quest for high office, and the appointer is the hated governor who was supposed to do everyone the favor of disappearing.
In introducing Burris, Blagojevich implicitly chided the legislature for not going a more democratic route: “The law requires that the governor make an appointment of a United States senator in the absence of any other law that would have given the people of Illinois a chance to be able to elect the successor to the United States Senate.” On this question, Blago occupied the moral high ground against all his Democratic tormentors. If they want an appointee, he was saying (although surely in more colorful language), I’ll give them an appointee good and hard.
In a devilish ploy, Blagojevich choose to play demagogic racial politics only a little more blatantly than his fellow Democrats do all the time. Since there’s no better way to distract from the merits of a question than the charge of racism, Blagojevich had it at the ready.
At the press conference that was more Saturday Night Live than C-SPAN, Blagojevich and Burris called on the former Black Panther and current congressman from Chicago, Bobby Rush, to put it all in perspective. Pointing out that there are no black senators at the moment, Rush warned against attempts to “hang and lynch” Burris. Subtle. A few days later, Rush compared opponents of seating Burris to Bull Connor.
If this seems too ham-handed to work, think again. The New York Times reports that callers to WVON, a black radio station in Chicago, have been livid at the racism allegedly directed at Burris (by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who opposes seating him? by Barack Obama, who backs Reid?). Speculation is that if Burris is rejected by the Senate and Blagojevich is impeached, another African-American will have to be appointed by Blagojevich’s successor, in a kind of victory for the Rush/ Blagojevich racial ploy.
Reid remains stalwart about blocking Burris, whatever the legal or political complications. The Nevada senator deserves whatever discomfort comes his way, since — ever the partisan — he opposed a special election. Blagojevich has turned the partisan greed and the cynical recourse to racial politics of his own party against it, in a gross, if entertaining, spectacle. Enjoy Rod Blagojevich’s revenge while it lasts.
© 2008 by King Features Syndicate