Thursday, December 11, 2008

Oh, how we love dirty laundry: No, I'm not worried about Obama/Blago ties


More disturbing than the downfall of Illinois' helmet-headed, corrupt governor, is the barely-concealed glee with which media, pundits and the people alike are tittering about a possible connection between Rod Blagojevich and Barack Obama.

After nearly two years of pre-presidential election faux scandal and breathless outrage, the days since Nov. 4 have been slow. Yeah, the American economy may crash and anarchy may ensue any day now, but economics is boring. We've grown used to juicy political news about radical pastors and witch-banishing preachers; secret baby mamas; embellished death-defying Eastern European trips; moose-hunting, book-banning Alaskan governors; and a man so wealthy he can barely keep track of his mansions. A fluctuating Dow will only keep us interested for so long. Thank God for rampaging Rod Blagojevich, an Illinois leader who rode into Springfield promising to clean up the Land of Lincoln, but instead ran the statehouse like Tammany Hall.

This week, Blago (as the Chicago papers call him) was arrested for trying to sell Barack Obama's old Senate seat, attempting to shake down Chicago companies and non-profits, and more. From the moment the Feds snagged the Illinois governor, folks began whispering about links to Barack Obama--even though the governor's profanity-laden taped conversations seemed to not only clear the President-elect of any wrongdoing, but demonstrate the former Senator's unwillingness to play dirty Chi-town politics, and even though Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said there was no evidence of any wrongdoing by Obama. On the talk show I sometimes listen to on my morning drive, the host (a former Hillary supporter and avid Obama hater) was darn near wetting his pants, concern trolling about Blago/Obama. "I mean it doesn't look like there is any tie between them...I mean I really hope there is no tie between them...I'm just so scared there might be some tie between them...Obama's going to have to prove to me there is no connection." Nothing like having to clear your name by proving a negative.

Turn on any 24-hour news channel and there is some bloviator sharing a similar line of dialogue. Deep down, some of us kind of want Obama to be involved in the Blago scandal...just a little...just enough to keep the news interesting.

But I'm not so sure the scandal-mongers are going to get their wish. I don't believe there is any connection between Blago's dirty dealings and Barack Obama. I could be proved wrong, but as a former Illinoisian I think I know a bit about the state's politics. Blago has long been toxic for his greediness and ineptitude. For Illinois residents and politicians alike, the question was always less if the governor would get caught up in some shenanigans, but when. In today's Washington Post, David Broder writes:

In the general election, Blagojevich defeated state Attorney General Jim Ryan. He had a rocky first term in Springfield, where he quickly became known as an absentee executive and where his inner circle was rumored to be operating with hands out. An unseemly family feud with his father-in-law fed the gossip mills.

But in 2006, the badly weakened Illinois GOP furnished another unelectable opponent, and Blagojevich won without breaking a sweat. During that campaign, a visit with Mayor Daley gave me insights into Blagojevich's problems. "When he was elected," Daley said, "I advised him to get the policy right and then worry about the politics. He did exactly the opposite and, as a result, he's got millions in his campaign treasury and the school districts across Illinois are going broke."

In Blagojevich's second term, it got worse. He became enmeshed in a bitter feud with the Democratic leadership of the General Assembly, especially House Speaker Mike Madigan. While problems festered unattended, no budget could be passed. On a visit to the Lincoln Library in Springfield, I was told by leaders of both parties that "this is the worst" they had ever seen.

Republicans or Democrats, they readily confessed that their heartfelt prayer was that something would occur to rid them of Blagojevich. Read more...

When "da mayor" of Chicago, Richard Daley, talks ish about you, you know you are persona non grata in Dem circles. Blago has been under investigation for three years. Smart pols, even fellow Democrats, knew to keep him at arm's length. If Barack Obama is nothing else, he is a smart politician. If Obama was dumb enough to dial up a scandal-plagued governor under the watchful eye of the Feds and discuss exchanging favors, it runs contrary to every measured thing we've seen from his camp through the presidential election. Also, call me Pollyanna, but I believe Obama's rhetoric. I think he is an intelligent, thoughtful and fundamentally honest person--that's why I voted for him.

For those who are sure that Blagojevich's cockiness post-arrest points to him having some dirt he's willing to spill about our future Commander-in-Chief, I say Blago is simply acting like a typical corrupt Chicago pol, who doesn't believe he's going down until he's handing over his belt and slipping on an orange jumpsuit.

Time will tell the true nature of the soon-to-be-deposed Illinois governor's relationship with the President-elect, but I'm betting on Obama. And I wish that the American media and people didn't lust after scandal so. Our country's current problems may not be juicy and glamorous, but they deserve more of our attention than this latest drama du jour.

Update: Joe Conason at Salon says media and rightwing attempts to tie Barack Obama to the Blagojevich scandal signal the return of "Clinton Rules."
Questions are raised. Connections are drawn. Conspiracies are theorized. Guilt is imputed, implied, asserted and very widely associated. And more of the same feckless fingerpointing is exactly what Barack Obama should expect from the
Republicans, the right-wing propaganda machine and their enablers in the mainstream media -- even after Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has met whatever
fate he deserves.

From the kooky obsession with his place of birth on WorldNetDaily to insinuations about his Chicago pedigree by the Associated Press, all of the attacks launched lately on Barack Obama give off the same familiar smell. Even a quick sniff is enough to bring back memories from a decade ago, when no perfidious accusation against Bill or Hillary Clinton was too crazy to deserve attention. Read more...


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