What fresh hell is this? - Dorothy Parker
I mean, really, what were you thinking when you did this?
If you saw the press conference this afternoon, I sincerely hope that you first scratched your head and then threw something at the television.
Well, that's what I did.
Not, mind you, because this sort of political theater surprises me. No, it was because of the situations that now might arise because this unfit-to-serve governor persists in thinking that he still has some sort of de facto legitimacy.
Let's look at the three main players in the press conference one by one. This will, I think, make some things clear.
Roland Burris. He has indeed had a long career of public service in Illinois, serving three terms as the Comptroller and one as the Attorney-General among other positions over the past forty years. It is true, then, that he would be pretty well qualified for the job of fill-in senator.
What is unfortunate is that Burris did what he did and accepted the nomination from Blago. He is not, however, strategically innocent. A cynic, like myself, would say that Burris is at the end of his political life and figured, "why the hell not?" He is seventy-one years old and would most likely serve until 2010 and then bow out. He saw his last chance at a national political position and, seriously, what politician could resist?
Another part of Burris's decision, and one that relates to the most damnable of our three conferees today, is the fact that he happens to be an African-American. Now, this is more of a fact of the matter than a qualification, but the next person to be discussed did not see it this way.
Bobby Rush Here is where the political theater really comes into this. If you watch the aforementioned press conference, it seems that Congressman Bobby Rush (D-IL) seemed to appear out of nowhere to support this ill-timed and possibly untenable decision. If you look really close, though, it seems that it is more a case of he showed up accidentally on purpose.
And, oh, what he said when he got there.
Bobby Rush implored the press and their consumers not to "hang or lynch" Burris because of the allegations against Blago. He went on to say that since Barack Obama was the only African-American Senator, that it is only right that his successor be an African-American. He seemed to imply that this would be the right thing to do.
This is race-baiting of the worst kind. First, he uses a purposely loaded phrase like "lynch" in reference to a black man. This was, to my mind, a calculated move to make the press feel ashamed and perhaps lay off. This is a perverse use of the horrific history of lynching as a form of terrorist action against blacks in America. Rush should feel ashamed of dredging up this shameful chapter in our history to score cheap debating points.
He then went on to suggest that, simply because the Senator who vacated the seat in question was black, therefore his successor should also be black. This, for me, goes beyond suggesting that race is a qualification rather than a fact of the matter. This suggests that the whole process of appointing people to serve in what should be elected offices is not only permissable, but in some cases, it can be morally superior. I reject this idea completely.
The people of Illinois elected Barack Obama to serve as their Senator. The people of Illinois, therefore, should be allowed to choose his successor. Bobby Rush, I suspect, knows this and chooses to ignore it. Our third person, sadly, also seems to have a real thing for ignorance...
Blago What do today's events say about Blago that we don't already know? Well, he was as good as his word that he was not going to quit and that he retained all of the powers of the governor. He also seemed to be perfectly willing to nominated a candidate knowing that he will go to Washington with a cloud over his head and the prospect of not being seated by the Senate leadership.
This raises issues at the national level about the power of the Senate to refuse to seat an appointed replacement for a Senator. I imagine that the Constitutional nature of this power will be much discussed in days to come. Read the part of the Constitution in question here.
What Now? As far as Burris is concerned, he made his decision, he will go to Washington, he might not get seated and he better be prepared to be at the center of a constitutional battle.
Bobby Rush has shown his allegiances and seems, for now, to be in the Blago camp. He has also shown that he is not above dealing out a whole deck of race cards and using charged imagery to get what he wants. In other words, he is, and shall remain, a politician.
Blago seems capable of mind-boggling levels of self delusion. He is either an adept strategist trying to make the best of a career-ending crisis or he is actually delusional, as some have speculated. In a strange way, I hope it is the latter.
The anti-Blago forces are consolidating their position. Who are the key players? I'd say that the main forces against Blago at the state level are Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn, Attorney-General Lisa Madigan, House Speaker Michael Madigan, Illinois Senate Majority Leader Emil Jones and Secretary of State Jesse White.
At the national level, this most recenty Blago move sets him against Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and (perhaps most powerfully) President-Elect Barack Obama.
So, good luck with all of that, Blago.
So, what do we have to look forward to in 2009? In the words of the great Kinky Friedman: "Smile. It only gets worse."