Blago the ‘Trumpocrat,’ &c.

Rod Blagojevich, an ex-governor of Illinois convicted of corruption, waves as he exits his home after President Donald J. Trump commuted his prison sentence in Chicago, Ill., February 19, 2020. (Joshua Lott/Reuters)
On presidential pardons, a Democratic debate, thoughts of Einstein, and more

‘He’s obviously got a big fan in me,” said Rod Blagojevich, referring to President Trump. And “if you’re asking what my party affiliation is, I’m a Trumpocrat.”

That is a perfect description of Blago, I think. It is a perfect description of countless others.

The president commuted the sentence of the grafty ex-governor — who, years ago, appeared on Trump’s TV show The Celebrity Apprentice.

For decades, I have found the subject of presidential pardons and commutations interesting. Trump has acted in behalf of his friends and supporters. Smart betting is, pardons of Manafort, Stone, Flynn, and the rest are to come.

You remember that President Clinton conducted an orgy of pardons and commutations in his final hours as president. His most notorious beneficiary was Marc Rich, a financier. But I concentrated on two others: Susan Rosenberg and Linda Sue Evans. They were longtime terrorists from the Weather Underground.

I wrote a piece about Rosenberg, in March 2001, titled “Clinton’s Rosenberg Case” (here).

George W. Bush was very, very different. His pardons were “reasonable, just, and few,” I once wrote. In his first year, he pardoned someone who had changed the odometer in a car. That kind of thing.

In December 2008, right before Bush left office, I quoted from an Associated Press report:

Before leaving for the holidays, President Bush commuted one prison sentence and granted 19 pardons . . .

With this latest batch, Bush has granted a total of 191 pardons and nine commutations. That’s fewer than half as many as either President Clinton or President Reagan during his two terms.

Included in the latest batch, the report continued,

is Charles Winters, who died in the 1980s in Florida. Winters helped ship arms and aircraft to Jews trying to found their own state in the Middle East. He was convicted of violating the Neutrality Act and served 18 months in prison.

I commented, “Yup, that’s Bush — his kind of pardon.”

He did not pardon I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the national-security official, who was convicted of perjury and other crimes. He did commute the entirety of Libby’s prison sentence (two and a half years). Trump issued Libby a full pardon in April 2018.

In a 2007 column, I wrote,

I feel nothing but sympathy for President Bush on this matter of a pardon — a pardon for Lewis Libby. They are a delicate, even wrenching business, pardons. On one hand, they look like cheating: The judicial process has done its thing and the executive comes and says, “No, I don’t think so — your result is wrong. I’m going to rule the other way. I’m going to reverse what you-all have done. Thank you, and have a nice day.


a cloud hangs over the person who is pardoned. (Reagan used to note this.) The pardonee looks like a person who has escaped justice — to whom a special favor, by a friend in a very high place, has been done.

And yet,

pardons can be very much the right thing to do, as I thought in the case of Cap Weinberger — and as I think in the case of Lewis Libby.

One final chunk of that old column, if you don’t mind:

I don’t think it possible to lay down strict rules, or even guidelines, for presidential pardons. I don’t believe it is possible to write a manual entitled, “When and Why a President Must Pardon.” I often quote the late Abe Rosenthal, who, when asked how he edited the New York Times, answered, “With my stomach.”

That, I believe, is the organ that must govern pardons. And, yes, they are a delicate, sometimes wrenching business.

• I scribbled many tweets about the Democratic debate that took place Wednesday night, and I will not repeat them here — but I will not refrain from making, and even repeating, a few points.

Ramesh Ponnuru had a column headed “Sanders Wins Again. So Does Trump.” That development must please millions and millions of people — Bernie-istas and Trumpistas (or “Trumpocrats,” as Blago says). But it makes the hearts of lots of others sink.

Is that what it will come down to? Sanders or Trump? Here, the People rule, as we have been told since kindergarten.

• I made this point on Twitter — that, “in a democracy, the people decide.” Someone responded, “America is not a democracy, you idiot. The framers decided against democracy fearing mob rule. We are a representative republic.”

That is the way people talk, and that is what they say, always. Whenever you mention that America is a democracy, people will say, “Not a democracy, a republic, you #!&@.”

The truth is, republicanism is a form of democracy — is a form of self-rule. As a correspondent of mine once put it, “Saying, ‘We’re not a democracy, we’re a republic,’ is a little like saying, ‘We’re not eating food, we’re eating chicken salad.’”

• In the 2016 GOP primaries, candidates competed to be the “not Trump” — the last person standing, to square off against The Donald in the home stretch. Cruz, Rubio, and others chewed one another up. Meanwhile, Trump was waltzing off with the nomination.

Are the Democrats repeating that show? Are Pete, Amy, and others competing to be the “not Bernie,” while Bernie is waltzing off with the nomination? And he’s not even a Democrat, is he?

More of a Democrat than Trump was a Republican, at the time? (Now, of course, Republicanism and Trumpism are one and the same.)

• Mike Bloomberg will never win a woke-off. He will never be able to compete with his rivals on progressive grounds. The best he can do, I think, is stand as a cranky, accomplished old man who doesn’t give a damn and wants to do what is necessary to deprive Trump of a second term. If he is cringing and apologetic — he is finished.

“I yam what I yam,” a sailor once said. Bloomie will have to express the same.

• On Wednesday night, he put in a good word for fracking. I thought, “Does he know where he is, and what he’s competing for? What’s he gonna do next, come out for restrictions on abortion?”

• An old line says that you campaign in poetry, govern in prose. I see no poetry in Bloomie’s campaigning — only prose (“The presidency is a management job, and I’m a manager”). This bodes ill for his electoral fortunes.

• On Twitter, I wanted to write about Elizabeth Warren’s voice — her speaking voice. (I’ve never heard her sing.) I rewrote my tweet about five times. In initial drafts — “drafts”! — I acknowledged that you are not supposed to write about a woman’s voice, because that indicates insensitivity, chauvinism, badness. But then I thought, “Screw it, I’m a writer.”

“There is almost a perpetual franticness in Warren’s voice,” I tweeted. It’s hard to tell, when she is speaking, what she regards as urgent and what she regards as less urgent. There is a franticness, all through.

Of course, Twitter responders let me have it, in the predictable ways. “Now do Biden and Bloomberg,” etc.

The truth is, I write about voices all the time — and other matters related to language. Indeed, in that same series of tweets, re the debate, I noted Bloomie’s honking Boston accent. He has been a New York figure for a long time — mayor for three terms — but still sounds straight out of Boston.

I further said, “New York is an all-American city. Tom Wolfe lived there for decades, with a Virginia accent.”

But no one cares. They are too soaked in political correctness to have an ounce of common sense.

Men have many, many styles of speaking, women have many, many styles of speaking. As a rule, you talk the way you talk. The great German soprano Diana Damrau once told me, “Your voice is your voice. You can’t go to the store and buy another one.”

Can you name a politician who dramatically altered her voice, in order to further her career? Uh-huh: Thatcher.

• One other tweet, from my series: “Elizabeth Warren is one of the best Democratic talkers I’ve ever heard. It’s kind of amazing that so few are voting for her in these caucuses and primaries (so far).”

• It is very, very important to Trump that you believe that he withheld military aid from Ukraine because he was concerned about the corruption of the Ukrainian government. Why is he not concerned about corruption in any other country? Turkey, Egypt, Hungary, Saudi Arabia? Don’t ask. Before Congress appropriated the aid to Ukraine, the Pentagon certified that Ukrainians had made sufficient progress against corruption to warrant receipt of the aid.

One of the Pentagon officials involved in the certification was John Rood, the undersecretary for policy. Needless to say, Trump has now demanded Rood’s resignation, and Rood has of course given it.

This is both yawn-making and alarming, if that’s possible. It is par for the course — but what a terrible course. You must have truthful people in government, not just loyalists to the president. This is something that everyone once knew, but has to be retaught and relearned, like everything else.

• As you may have read, the Pentagon intends to eliminate funding for Stars and Stripes, the military newspaper, which first appeared during the Civil War and has been published continually since World War II. Secretary Mark Esper and other defense officials say the money has to be spent on real military purposes, basically.

The department has been allocating about $15 million a year to the paper. About a week ago, the department announced that it was diverting another $3.8 billion, which Congress appropriated for the military, to a wall on our southwestern border.

Even a few Republicans complained about that, softly.

• After Rush Limbaugh made remarks about Pete Buttigieg and homosexuality, President Trump called and said, “Rush, I just got to tell you something: Never apologize. Don’t ever apologize.” That is according to Rush’s own account.

I thought back to the 2016 campaign, when another radio personality, Howie Carr, had some fun with Elizabeth Warren’s Indian ancestry — or alleged Indian ancestry. Trump said to him, according to Carr himself, “Whatever you do, don’t apologize. You never hear me apologize, do you? That’s what killed Jimmy the Greek, way back. Remember? He was doing okay till he said he was sorry.”

For the benefit of the young, or forgetful: Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder was a sports commentator who was fired by CBS after making a remark about black athletes. He said that they were better than white athletes because they were “bred” that way during slavery.

Sometimes apologies are called for, sometimes they aren’t. This is true in public life and private life, both. It can be hard to judge these things, don’t you think? Barry Goldwater titled his memoirs “With No Apologies.”

This is a big subject, but I’m breezing toward the end of these — this? — Impromptus . . .

• Zoe Caldwell, the famed actress, has died at 86. The obit in the New York Times is very, very interesting — including in what Caldwell had to say about the difference between acting in the theater and acting on television or in the movies. But I wanted to single out something having to do with abortion.

Caldwell was born in 1933, in the teeth of the Depression. Her father, Edgar, was a plumber; her mother, also named Zoe, was a taxi dancer. (As the Times’s obit explains, a taxi dancer was “someone from whom dance-hall customers could buy a dance.”) Zoe — the mother — got pregnant at a very bad time. Edgar was out of work, and there was an older child already in the house.

In 2001, the actress would write the following, in her memoirs: “Mum’s friends told her that she had no choice but to use the coat hanger, but Mum thought it might be fun to have me around, whoever I was, so she put her coat on the hanger and I was born.”

That is an absolutely amazing sentence. I read it at least twice. Stunning, really.

• Someone gave me a quotation from Einstein. You may find that it applies to you, or you may appreciate it, regardless. “For the most part, I do what my own nature drives me to do. It is embarrassing to earn such respect and love for it. Arrows of hate have been shot at me too; but they never hit me, because somehow they belong to another world, with which I have no connection whatsoever.”

Have a little more: “I live in that solitude which is painful in youth, but delicious in the years of maturity.”

• Feel like a little music? I have a “New York Chronicle” for you — here. And, if you’re up for it, a review of Handel’s Agrippina at the Metropolitan Opera: here. In that review, I mention an old Carol Burnett character, Mrs. Wiggins, and Kate McKinnon’s famous impersonation of Justin Bieber on Saturday Night Live. Really.

Hell, in this music podcast, I mention John Salley of the Detroit Pistons — yes, I do.

• Last week, I was in Mexico City. A churreria was selling Valentine’s Day churros, in a way: red-velvet ones. Nice, huh? (They were pretty good, although I should have stopped at two . . .)

Thanks for joining me, ladies and gents, and I hope you have a beautiful weekend.

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