Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Blagojevich Blagojevich Blagojevich

My reaction to the Blagojevich story is something along the lines of "I'm shocked, shocked, to find corruption going on in the Illinois State House!". It doesn't seem to me that Blagojevich has done anything qualitatively different from what nearly every politician does, namely, dispense offices and favors to those who contribute to their campaigns or give them political favors. The sale of ambassadorships is essentially institutionalized, an entire street in DC is given over to funnelers of money from industry to congress, etc. In California, the state is basically completely in thrall to the prison guards union, which is one reason we have more people in prison than in college.

What Blagojevich did wrong was to be just really, really, blatant and stupid about the way he played the game. For that he will be punished, but he's just the sacrificial goat for the entire culture.

On the other hand, the idea has been floated that Patrick Fitzgerald be appointed special prosecuter to investigate the numerous crimes of the Bush administration. Won't happen -- if Obama was going to do anything like that, he wouldn't have retained Bush officials like Robert Gates -- but it's a nice dream.


TGGP said...

We Illinoisians love corruption so much we booted out our one honest politician, another Fitzgerald that brought in attorney Fitzgerald, in favor of some no-hopes to campaign for his Senate seat (which Obama won).

mtraven said...

Hey, I grew up in Mayor Daley's Chicago (the original, not the son). Don't tell me about corruption. Of course, in his day, they did it right and didn't get caught.

Michael said...

It is not really legitimate to compare the 'sale' of ambassadorships to that of a senate seat.

Ambassadorships are appointive, and at least a certain number of them are patronage positions. There are good reasons for this. One is that since foreign policy is a matter about which there are often partisan differences, the President should be able to have his man in a critical position rather than a career foreign service officer who may not share his views. Another is that it is almost a necessity for ambassadors to the principal European capitals, particularly London and Paris, to possess private means well beyond the embassy budget or a foreign service salary. They are expensive places to live and the ambassador is expected to maintain a certain style. Budweiser won't do when the occasion calls for Bollinger. Patronage appointees get posts where the hazards involve ignorance of orders of precedence at diplomatic receptions, or of the correct use of uncommon articles of table silver. Career foreign service appointees go to those where they are tropical diseases and stray machine gun fire.

It is purely an accident of history, and its intersection with the peculiarities of Illinois electoral law, that put Gov. Blagocevich in the position to sell the senate seat vacated by Barack Obama. To compare the completely lawful patronage appointment of ambassadors to what Blagocevich has apparently tried to do is reaching beyond one's grasp. Besides, I thought you were an advocate of democracy. In democracies, elective positions are filled by election, not by auction.

To compare what Blagocevich to 'what nearly every politician does' reminds me of a child's excuse, which inevitably begins with "all the other kids..." Far be it from me to depreciate the venality of the species, but it does not seem to me that politicians everywhere exhibit a corruption as deep as that found in Illinois. Most are sensible enough to realize they cannot get away with it. As one news commentator pointed out last night, should the charges against Blagocevich result in a conviction, Illinois might have two consecutive governors, one from each party, serving time in prison. Within recent memory Govs. Otto Kerner and Daniel Walker, and Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, all have gone to prison. Illinois does seem particularly sordid.

As for the 'numerous crimes of the Bush administration' - whatever they may have been, they will soon enough be yesterday's news. And whatever may be the political bias of the press, what all journalists like best is a current story, the juicier the better. Your guys politically own the next two years, at least, with all that comes along with it. We'll see how they enjoy it.