The Real Blagojevich Impact
(Photo Update: found Blago's high school yearbook pic, above. He was voted "Most Likely To Answer A Question With An Answer That He Answered The Question With An Answer.")
Today's big story triggered the predictable gushes of Bright Shiny Media Object Mediocrity. True, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has been arrested for trying to sell Obama's open Senate seat:
Federal authorities arrested Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich Tuesday on charges that he brazenly conspired to sell or trade the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by President-elect Barack Obama to the highest bidder....Yes, Ro-Bla made his direct pitch to the Obama folks on November 7th:
And on November 7th, three days after the election, Blagojevich made clear what he wanted in exchange for appointing the Obama adviser to the Senate: the Department of Health and Human Services.But they missed the back story. You've got to figure Team Obama was thoroughly acquainted with said Guv's distinctive style well before November 4th. They're all cogs in the same machine, and they must've known he was under investigation (if not wiretapped) by the FBI and pit bull prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. From Fitzgerald's filing, we know Obama wouldn't play ball on Nov. 7th and thereafter, with the accused grousing, "they're not willing to give me anything except appreciation."
The super-hustling Marcy Wheeler at Empty Wheel is all over it, and put together a time line after reading the 76-page filing. Merging with what facts are available, she doesn't think the time line supports Rahm Emanuel (who took Blago's congressional CD-5 seat over after he left it) whistle-blowing to the prosecuting attorney. I'm not so sure. Whistling would've been Rahm's job as CoS designate to protect Obama, he would've probably known about it, and it would've been overwhelmingly prudent to leak. Blago was persona non grata in Illinois for some time, and Politico naturally asks, "how much was the Obama transition cooperating with the FBI?" Still, the evidence angles miss the colorful mural that looms behind the play.
The real story here is about appearance, change, and enforcing boundaries of acceptable behavior in politics. The Illinois governor will serve as a great and ground-breaking example of Greek tragedy. Reason? He was horribly out of tune with the gods. To Blagojevich, he was simply conducting Chicago (and Bush Era) politics as usual, taking his rightful due. Therefore, his reaction to being arrested at 6AM was "Hahahahaa! Great joke. That was a good one. Alright, who put you up to this?" To the political machine that spawned him, he had crossed the bounds. Someone tipped off Fitzgerald to go after Blago based upon the shiv he was planning (emphasis planning) to stick in before new Illinois ethics rules went effective as of January. And that, my friends, is a high-aperture departure from established standards of political malfeasance. It's like wind sheer, like veer. The details may be decoded or enthralled over by a select few, but the effects to the rest of us in the cargo cult are religious.
Regardless of their level of cooperation or timing, Obama and Fitzgerald sent a big message to Chicago, to Illinois, and to every politician or lobbyist waiting in line to slurp at the Money River: you've got New Rules! Most if not every politician who got arrested in the past 30 years was only prosecuted after their deeds, after getting caught red-handed with courtesans on yachts and cold cash in freezers. Blagojevich doesn't fit that past. Freely admitting my own paltry memory, I can't think of a single exception, and further: the Guv didn't get a dime for all his self-advocacy. Radical departure of standards. The Guv's going down on conspiracy charges, merely for expressed intent. Show trials are cathartic. Yet I ask myself, "What current or former politician does not use at least half their brain cycles conspiring to peddle influence, trade horses, and use their position to enrich themselves?" I mean, Christ, it's what they do.
Busting Blagojevich, whoever did it, is a wake-up call to every sleaze-ball queued up in the system for a stool to slurp on the Money River. His take-down alerts every top-level Secretary, every business interest allocating funds to buy votes, every ward heeler fixing violations with the local Department of Health to be en garde: they're being told it's a crime to even talk about influence peddling. They'll have to devise code. A fish stinks from its head, a rose wafts from its bud. That's the story, and a case like this will shape behaviors all the way down to junior high schoolers choosing to cheat on tests, or study more. This is...new.