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Blago Has Performed Unintended Service

Thomas F. Roeser 30 January 2009 No Comment

Yesterday, to the exhilaration of Illinois, the nation, the Democratic and Republican parties, liberals and conservatives, men and women, and a massive majority of citizens (but evidently substantially more whites than blacks), this state’s 40th governor, Rod Blagojevich was kicked out of office, ending a road show of low comedy that tickled much of the nation and provided divergence from serious economic downturn.
Now we return to standard liberal governance-and a strong possibility that a fusion of Democrats and Republicans will use the episode to do what they always have done since the enactment of a state income tax under Richard Ogilvie: enact an income tax hike or a patchwork quilt of hikes rather than seriously prune government’s size. Gov. Pat Quinn has not ruled it off the table and few GOPers will help him with the hike, allowing the party’s 2010 Republican nominee to crusade against it. On the Democratic side, Speaker Mike Madigan obviously hopes a tax hike will pass and obviate his step-daughter’s having to pass one later.

But, while it has been bawdy comedy, of itself the Blago-drama has been no tragedy. Until the fed disclosures on tape, the real catastrophe has been the behind-the-scenes longstanding fusion politics that has deprived the state of governance resembling the Reagan Revolution.
The bright side is now this: it has shown clearly the linkage between the two parties that has preempted conservative politics in Illinois. The Republican party since Ogilvie-but particularly since James Thompson-has largely been run by the same venal group as controls Dems: soulless what’s-in-it-for-me?-types hooked on getting a bigger piece of the pie on jobs, contracts and power jobs.

That’s the GOOD aspect of this whole thing. Again: the tale of the tapes…and more to come out during the federal trial leading to a denouement at least two years down the road…will continue to focus on the now undeniable truth: But this burlesque has an up-side. Blago’s debacle spotlights Illinois decadent fusion politics, the amalgam of bipartisan dealings that deprived this state of any responsible two-party advocacy not to mention the foreclosure to the people of Illinois of anything like the Reagan Revolution that has benefited other states. Big Jim, Little Jim and Old George as well as one-tough-mama Judy Baar Topinka, never allowed this sunlight to show through.

The Future? Some Options.

What’s likely to happen in state Democratic politics now? Answer: The two Democratic patriarchs who run all government here…distrustful and envious of each other but nevertheless handcuffed together in a survival pact of convenience…have already determined the future. Mayor Richard M. Daley and House Speaker Mike Madigan believe they have cut a deal with the new governor, ersatz Ralph Nader populist, Quinn, to support a substantial tax hike. It will pass this heavily Democratic legislature.

This will be hugely unpopular with the voters (although not the largely supine liberal media) but Daley and Madigan are sure Quinn can ride it through. Fresh money will fill the state coffers for a future ascension of Madigan’s step-daughter Lisa, run for governor. Quinn’s price for compliance is this: he will support an unpopular tax hike as urgently necessary IF Lisa stays out of the 2010 primary so he can run with a unified party.

He seems to have secured that promise…but political promises like these have perilously short shelf lives. For now there seems to be agreement: Lisa Madigan, at age 43, the mother of two small kids, will have to wait. BUT Gov. Quinn can’t take any such promise made by Lisa or her cagey step-dad too seriously. The tax bill and any other rumbles that occur may damage Quinn’s popularity. He has always been regarded coolly by Democratic regulars. If his numbers start to tumble following the tax hike and the Democratic brand starts to look tattered (especially with the unexciting candidacy of Sen. Roland Burris on the ticket), Quinn shouldn’t be surprised to see Lisa and her enigmatic pop reconsider. especially if the party’s attractive state treasurer, Alexi Giannoulias, gets itchy and decides to get in.
Is Blago Really Nuts?

Yes-yes-yes. As a Democratic governor with a Democratic House, Democratic Senate and a favorable Daley-Madigan cabal in his favor, all Blago had to do was show up and be guaranteed a placid term as head of one of the nation’s most powerful states. But here the defiant look-at-me publicity-driven Blago takes over. He sees a chance to make it to the Big Time (the presidency) by stabbing his father-in-law, Dick Mell, his party’s Speaker, his mayor and everyone else so as to generate national media attention as a Ken Doll media-type, challenging the system and riding the media to the White House. Crazy.

He fights in public with his father-in-law who wanted a token payback via an illegal landfill (a gentle “no” that could be done decorously, privately), going to the media, , using the old man as a pi’ata in his fight for “reform”-ruining family solidarity permanently.

Mell, disgraced for having no clout after all and having been made to look ridiculous in front of his machine friends, responds angrily by declaring to the media in pique that Blago’s no saint and has been rewarding campaign contributors with contracts and hires. Mell’s anger catches the attention of U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and the probe begins. Yes, crazy. How crazy can you be to make a public issue of slapping down the father-in-law, denying his dying mother-in-law the right to see her grandchildren…and to kick powerful Speaker Madigan in the slats, spurring retaliation which paralyzes the legislative process? Yes, very crazy.

Was the Media Road Show Nuts as Well?

No. Just risky. But not necessarily all that crazy. Not when you’re coming up against Patrick Fitzgerald who has the reputation of being able to convict a ham sandwich before any jury. Not at all when the odds are Blago might go up the river for more than 20 years. His goal with the media barrage and populist stunts to come is to influence the jury pool that he can swing one…ONE…juror from joining the rest for conviction. The system requires unanimous jury agreement on this. Chicago’s heavy liberal and minority community warrants Blago’s jury might have ONE jury member who for emotional and ideological reasons refuses to go along. A risk worthwhile, then.

Blago started his blitz concentrating heavily on black talk station WVON. Then, appearing on “Larry King Live!,” being interviewed by Diane Sawyer of CBS-TV, doing a one-on-one with ABC’s Barbara Walters and having his hair mussed on “The View” by Joy Behar, a flamboyant Italian ex-Catholic and radical feminist. Blago knew he was dead meat (a favorite term of John Kass) and would be kicked out of office but the only hope is that he can beat the fed criminal trial. See now how Blago plays the race angle. He says he considered Chicago’s Oprah Winfrey for the Senate-also WLS-TV’s Cheryl Burton. Not dumb from a cynical marketing standpoint. Remember soon after entering the governorship how George Ryan reversed all his old stands, taking several years of populist stands…to craft a new image of trendy liberalism to overshadow the sins of his secretary of state drivers’ license days? He had the jury pool in mind then several years down the road. He did these things: reversed his old militant stand on pro-life…reversed his old pro-death penalty stand and unilaterally commuted all inmates of death row from execution…went to Cuba to shake Fidel Castro’s stand and urge an end to sanctions against Cuba (the Hispanic vote)…got himself nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize to get the goo-goo vote.

It didn’t work but the chance was worth taking for Ryan. And of course if Blago’s emotion-charged issues work, he’d get off, get national attention and be ripe to write a book and do heavy honorarium speeches at $25,000 a pop…and craft a true Jimmy Stewart image-assailing politicians of both parties for wheeler-dealing. Might make all of us sick…but, no-not nuts at all.

How Valid is His “They All Do It!” Charge?

Terribly unfair to the many decent legislators of both parties who craft legislation on largely honorable terms. Terribly unfair when he seeks to capitalize on public ignorance of the process to imply what he has been caught saying on tape is part and parcel of every deal. Terribly so.

Yet, the fact is clear that since Richard Ogilvie, who gave us the income tax and an end to smaller government, smaller government, regulation reform and budget cutting has been deferred perpetually. Instead of grassroots politics for the GOP, it has been a 6th wheel in a largely liberal the alliance of big business, big unions and teachers’ unions. Result: fusion between Democrats and Republicans with back-scratching that preludes any real conservatism. This fusionism has linked some so-called Republicans with fund-raising for the Blago administration and resultant paybacks.
The question is: Is he brutally corrupt bargaining Blago outlines on tape what’s really going on? His campaign to prove it is can continue to gain him headlines for the two years he has to build up for his trial. My summation: fusion politics is as cynical as they come but not as bad as the tactics proposed by Blago himself.
Is “Talking Tough” on Tape Equivalent to Crime?
Could well be. Does merely “talking” deals that sound corrupt doesn’t correspond to corruption by him? He says no,. He’s wrong. Key provisions of criminal law deals with criminal conspiracy which consists of the following elements: an agreement between parties to achieve an unlawful objective…the defendant’s willingness to enter into the agreement and commit the offense…his knowledge of the illegal conspiracy and commission of an overt act-a mere one will do-to further the conspiracy.

Is Fitz Trying to Criminalize all Politics?

Political fusionists, lobbyists, flacks and officials of the two parties roll their eyes in mock dismay. Not because the ideas Blago tosses out are so preposterous-but much of what he alludes to is actively going on. I can tell you as a former lobbyist here and in Washington (until I retired in 1991) it wasn’t going on here such as he describes. But I was never a big-time player. I surmise those who are graduates of the Jim Thompson school of accommodation are aghast…not because they haven’t thought of or heard of these stratagems before…but because they recognize the devices that are played by themselves and their favorites through the years.
I can tell you that I was a key member of a governor’s staff in the so-called squeaky clean state of Minnesota and neither we nor the Democrats did what Blago chortles about on tape. I was an assistant commerce secretary and had to deal with the Congress to get my program for Republican Richard Nixon through a Democratic House and Senate. Some hard-nosed bargaining was done-but nothing…nothing…even remotely similar to what Blago describes. I was the chief lobbyist for the Peace Corps and number three in its hierarchy with the responsibility of getting my agency’s budget approved through a harshly anti-Nixon, heavily Democratic Congress. Again: nothing like that was even suggested or remotely occurred.

I was chief lobbyist for Quaker Oats dealing with Springfield, Chicago and Washington, D. C. and at least 15 other states. Nothing remotely like this occurred. BUT the toughest ethical struggle came in Chicago…and not with its government or pols but with Operation PUSH which was putting huge pressure on us to drop the Aunt Jemima brand because it had what Rev. Jesse Jackson considered an unattractive black face in favor of no face at all. Threats and actual tactics of extortion was tried which turned my hair to the grey it once was (before the whiteness it is now). What happened? I explain at the end of this article.

About the nature of politics in which I have participated and about which I have taught throughout the country. Naifs and so-called “reformers’ should know the difference between fair legislative bargaining and corruption. Remember this: The very nature of politics is SERVICE RENDERED IN ANTICIPATION OF FAVORS TO COME. The stated idea of hanging a “for sale” sign on a U. S. Senate seat, sending minions out to see contractors, telling them they can enrich themselves with state contracts if they pony up huge campaign donations…spells: THIS SENATE SEAT IS UP FOR SALE. PAY UP AND YOU MAY BE A SENATOR. See the difference?

Now as to Operation PUSH…

Thank God, Quaker gave me the sole right as a field general to approve or veto any deal affecting it. Still I will say, no big business mogul, no union boss, noChicago pol came close to what a churchman, the…ahem…Rev. Jesse Jackson did to extort material favors in return for not picketing our Aunt Jemima brand. With one eye on our reaction he would lead his army to chant, “Aunt Jemima, symbol of a southern slave, must go hey-hey!” There was a way…the Budweiser way…to placate this extortion. Not Quaker.

I told him: “Jesse, you’ve done a disservice to the black race, removing identifiable black faces that stand for culinary excellence-Uncle Ben of Uncle Ben’s Rice, the smiling dining car porter for Cream of Wheat. Instead of banning the last identifiable black face standing for culinary excellence in America, Aunt Jemima Pancakes, you should go to General Mills and petition them to make Betty Crocker black!”

Did we cave on Aunt Jemina?

Well, look at your grocer’s shelves. Aunt Jemima is still there, isn’t she? Black, chubby, joyous.



Tom Roeser is the Chairman of the Chicago Daily Observer Editorial Board

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