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There’s an obvious explanation

Friday, Sep 11, 2009

* Eric Zorn asks a question

How, given everything he had going for him and the object lesson of his Republican predecessor behind bars serving as a constant reminder to remain above reproach, did Blagojevich become the first governor of Illinois to be impeached and removed from office?

How did he go from potential presidential candidate to potential federal inmate and national laughingstock in six short years?

Maybe there’s a good explanation, innocent or otherwise. Maybe not. But the search for that explanation is why one might purchase and carefully read “The Governor,” as I did.

How could this have happened?

How could this have happened? Because he’s a crook.

This has been yet another edition of “Simple Answers to Simple Questions.”

* Related…

* Rod Blagojevich’s “All Kids” Helps Improve Health Insurance Coverage for Illinois Children

* Washington Times editorial: The Blago diaries - There’s a whole lotta hubris in disgraced governor’s memoirs

* Blago regretful ‘every day’

* Today’s Talk Shows

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - He Makes Ryan Look Like a Saint - Friday, Sep 11, 09 @ 9:28 am:

    Arogance from him AND His staff.

  2. - George - Friday, Sep 11, 09 @ 9:30 am:

    All Kids really has made Illinois a national leader for healthcare. And I know a lot of people (not just the former Governor) worked to make that happen.

    At least we can be national leader in something other than Governors who have been arrested.

  3. - VanillaMan - Friday, Sep 11, 09 @ 9:31 am:

    I like studying politics and governments, so I am alwasy fascinated as often by leadership failures, as I am with successes. Blagojevich definately interests me, as it does Zorn.

    Calling Blagojevich a crook, might be the correct answer - but could you then explain how a crook gets through state government, federal government, and receive party nomination? How common is this? How many crooks in government do you believe we have? What can be done to prevent crooks from being nominated and elected to office? What can citizens do to protect themselves from crooks?

    Blagojevich obviously satisfied voters on some level. He obviously pulled off what few crooks have accomplished in the history of crime. If he is nothing but a crook, then please explain how this happened. Zorn’s questions are good ones to ask.

    Crooks don’t succeed on their own.

  4. - siriusly - Friday, Sep 11, 09 @ 9:36 am:

    I really dispute every description, ever, that Rod Blagojevich was a “potential presidential candidate.” The only person who thought he was presidential candidate material was Rod Blagojevich.

    Zorn is a great columnist, but in his effort to describe the rise and fall - the use of that descriptor is a little bit of a stretch.

  5. - Dirtybird - Friday, Sep 11, 09 @ 9:36 am:

    LOL! “Simple Answers to Simple Questions.” ZING!

  6. - RMWStanford - Friday, Sep 11, 09 @ 9:37 am:

    I would say not only because he is a crook but also because he is arrogant one with a bit of messiah complex.

  7. - siriusly - Friday, Sep 11, 09 @ 9:38 am:

    Agree with Rich’s answer. The truth is he was a crook to start with. He was plotting ways to steal money from the state from even before the election in 2002. He was lying to peoples faces about what he would do for them in 2002.

    The office of Governor didn’t turn Blagojevich corrupt. Tony Rezko didn’t turn Blagojevich corrupt. The culture of Springfield didn’t turn Blagojevich corrupt (he was in DC just before running for Governor). Rod Blaojevich was the corrupting factor here. The man was a thieving, lying criminal.

  8. - cynically anonymous - Friday, Sep 11, 09 @ 9:45 am:

    Blago and the real housewives of Atlanta (on the Bonnie Hunt show)- now that’s entertainment!

  9. - RMWStanford - Friday, Sep 11, 09 @ 9:46 am:

    I dont think that Blagojevich was ever a strong contender to be President, but he was mention a few times by the national media as a potential contender.

  10. - You Go Boy - Friday, Sep 11, 09 @ 9:47 am:

    To paraphrase Willie Sutton, when asked why he robbed banks, said “’cause that’s where the money is”…(to which he may have added “dumbass!”). Blago has a criminal’s mentality - “Where’s the next score??” - which is masked by his bizarre, pathological personality (a host of components).
    In his first run for governor, I remember his commercials exploiting his parents background of hard work/family values, etc.. What would they think of sonny boy today do you suppose?

  11. - TominChicago - Friday, Sep 11, 09 @ 9:50 am:

    If we are looking to diagnose Blago, I think that meglomania rather than sociopathy explains Blago. I really think that he thought that he wouldn’t be caught because he was too popular or too smart or too something. Remember his bizarre belief at the time before his arrest but at which point he was the most unpopular governor in the history of Illinois that Obama was going to appoint him Sec. of HHS. He actually believed that Obama would entrust him to lead the charge to get healthcare reform through.

    He is a sad man.

  12. - Leave a Light on George - Friday, Sep 11, 09 @ 10:00 am:

    No only is Blago a crook but he surrounded himself with crooks - several of whom remain in state employ. What are you waiting for Gov. Q? Get rid of them.

  13. - VanillaMan - Friday, Sep 11, 09 @ 10:01 am:

    I think everyone is bringing up good points. We all should start discussing how this man became governor, so that we can prevent anything similar in the future.

    I don’t like it when folks just want to dismiss Blagojevich as insane or crazy. That’s incorrect. For those who supported Blagojevich, I’d like to know why - because his appeal always alluded me. But I would like to know because obviously something was there and I don’t think people are crazy. Blagojevich wasn’t my candidate because I put a higher priority on successful previous experiences in leadership settings, so this guy in 2002 fell far short, and in 2006 was an obvious failure. But that is just me.

    I can tell you why I voted for Ryan in 1998, and tell you why he was the wrong guy. But can Blagojevich supporters do something similar? Until they can, we run the risk of repeating this disaster.

    Just calling him a crook, doesn’t do it.

  14. - Brennan - Friday, Sep 11, 09 @ 10:05 am:

    *Snooze button*

    We’re still debating the rise and fall of Nero. Back of the line Zorn.

  15. - wordslinger - Friday, Sep 11, 09 @ 10:06 am:

    He had a lot of luck, and he had Mell.

    Mell put him in the GA.

    Rosty got in trouble, and got upset by GOPer Flanagan. Two year’s later, Mell’s organization greased the wheels for Blago to beat Flanagan for a safe Dem seat.

    Mell made him a player for the gubernatorial nomination. If Vallas had been willing to fly around downtstate, he probably would have won the nomination. To keep his luck running, the GOP nominated a guy named Ryan.

    But he always going to be a hustler, no matter where he was.

  16. - Down South - Friday, Sep 11, 09 @ 10:19 am:

    Is Blago on the level of Richard Nixon. I would call him a crook. Maybe that is why Blago wanted a picture with him. I happens because of a lack of choice at the ballot box.

  17. - dupage dan - Friday, Sep 11, 09 @ 10:44 am:


    Maybe it was his pretty face.

    Seriously, I think maybe we put blinders on when it comes to voting for people. What I don’t know is why we are taken in like this. Individuals have a responsiblity to pull the lever after considering the candidates critically. That’s not happening.

  18. - KeepSmiling - Friday, Sep 11, 09 @ 10:44 am:

    VM,hmmmmm. I know what I worked hard to resist…
    Charm. Energy.
    That’s what he peddled, and that’s what we bought. And we’ll do it time and time again. The American public seems to always be blindly attracted to the gregarious jock. We’ll even accept his arrogance and even some stupidity if he’s got enough charm. Note to Bob S and Dan H: you may want to start mustering up a little more charm and energy, or hope that no one else does.

  19. - Brennan - Friday, Sep 11, 09 @ 10:50 am:

    =Is Blago on the level of Richard Nixon.=

    Nixon was a fighter. He did stage a comeback after a very close defeat in 1960. Nixon was also just as pragmatic as Blago once they had to govern.

    Dear gawd what would happen if Blago staged a comeback in Illinois.

  20. - My take - Friday, Sep 11, 09 @ 11:03 am:

    Rod Blagojevich is a politician. While his alleged actions may be at a different level than others who are currently serving an elected position, his nature is nearly no different than many (I won’t say most, but certainly many) of them. How many of these legislators benefited from some of Rod’s ‘crazy/mean/evil’ plans? Hmm? How many followed through with getting their piece of the pie while the getting was good? Even more shameful, how many of these legislators then turned right around after the arrest and called the now-former Governor ‘crazy/mean/evil’ and proclaimed their own sainthoods? I could name names but I won’t. You know who they are, and so do they. Say what you want about Rod Blagoevich but there is a FAR greater problem out there and that is the SYSTEM OF GOVERNMENT as it is and always has been. Some people go too far and get caught. Rod did. Many, many others do things that are just about as lacking in nobility and make careers out of it. Yet no one seems to ever mention that. Amazing.

  21. - You Go Boy - Friday, Sep 11, 09 @ 11:04 am:

    Brennan: to answer your last question (a frightening one, indeed), I would finish packing my bags and gas up the car for a one way road trip out of state.

  22. - Ben S. - Friday, Sep 11, 09 @ 11:06 am:

    Well, he’s barred from holding office in the state…so a comeback will thankfully never happen.

  23. - Yellow Dog - Friday, Sep 11, 09 @ 11:15 am:

    Is Blagojevich a crook? Yes.

    There is a little bit more to it than that.

    To Vanillaman’s point, there was an excellent research study done a few years ago about liars.

    Everybody thinks their good at telling the truth from a lie.

    So researchers put the idea to the test. Using college students, they set up one group to tell stories and another group to judge whether or not they were true.

    What researchers found was that most people average 50-50…a coin toss…on their ability to tell the truth from a lie.

    But the researchers also did something else…they gave ALL of the participants personality tests.

    Guess what they found?

    The folks who were the best liars also happened to test high for traits that we most commonly associate with successful leaders.

    One thing that successful politicians and successful liars have in common? They tell people what they want to here.

    Fortunately, when the lying gets too out of hand, it always comes back to bite the leaders in the butt.

    A good example: The Mayans.

    For years Mayan kings convinced peasants to feed not just them, but their entire court and army, as well as build their temples, houses, and tend to their needs. Sounds unthinkable, but all the kings had to do was convince them that they were descendant from the gods and controlled the rains.

    Of course, every 200 years or so, Mesoamerica experienced decade-long droughts. The angry peasants would then murder the kings, sometimes even eat them.

    Ah, the Circle of Life!

  24. - Inish - Friday, Sep 11, 09 @ 11:25 am:

    Nixon was awarded a stamp- so never say never.
    That being said- I don’t remember a viable candidate ever being offered as an alternative- and for that- I blame the Democrat leadership

  25. - Yellow Dog - Friday, Sep 11, 09 @ 11:43 am:

    === That being said- I don’t remember a viable candidate ever being offered as an alternative- and for that- I blame the Democrat leadership ===

    Um, I think the Republicans deserve equal blame.

    And for that matter, one of Topinka’s biggest beefs was that the Big Business, Big Money Fellas that traditionally back GOP candidates wouldn’t pony up for her campaign, because they didn’t want to rock the boat.

    So lets blame the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, Illinois Manufacturers Association, etc. down the line while we’re at it.

    p.s. Rod did have a primary opponent — who I voted for — but he only garnered about a third of the vote. So, ultimately, lets place the blame where it really lies: with the voters.

  26. - Rich Miller - Friday, Sep 11, 09 @ 11:53 am:

    ===Nixon was awarded a stamp- so never say never.===

    Yeah, and then some very funny entrepreneur designed an envelope that you could use with that stamp. One could place the stamp, with Nixon’s visage, behind what looked like prison bars.


  27. - regular democrat - Friday, Sep 11, 09 @ 12:23 pm:

    A familiar name in the Ravenswood area will be resurfacing in a state rep race stay tuned

  28. - Anonymous - Friday, Sep 11, 09 @ 12:50 pm:

    V-Man, while I never voted for Blago, I’ll take a shot at how “this happened” and why it kept happening over and over again.

    (Keep Smiling SORT OF had it, so I’ll tag onto that a bit.) People will generally TELL you that it was “charm and energy” and–as KeepSmiling put it–”blind attraction for the ‘gregarious jock’”. (A little difficult for me to see Blago as a “jock”, but I’ll run with it because people did beieve that.)

    I’d argue, however, that the “charming, gregarious jock” is actually a concession that the public have been allowing more and more over say, the last 10-20 years–based on the leadership options they “have”. I believe what they really want (both women and men) are the strongest leaders they can get…more along the lines of “Sociable Spartans” v. “Gregarious Jocks”.

    So in Rod’s case and during Rod’s time:

    -People WANTED Sociable Spartan;
    -They would have SETTLED for Gregarious Jock;
    -And yet they all went for “charming, energetic” and obviously vulnerable Rod.

    If they couldn’t have a great or even mediocre Leader, they probably settled for someone with whom they could identify the most.

    And that’s how he got in. That’s how he stayed in. And that’s upon which the foundation of his “talk show” defense is built.

    It’s not the first time this has happened; it’s just that we’re more painfully aware in this instance because it hit closer to home.

    So, I’d argue it’s OUR fault. We’ve become complacent; probably way too complacent.

    Even on today’s date, many will still believe that it’s all safe and good now–and it will stay that way without too much effort or having to make some tough decisions. It will just happen that way because our popularity is higher than it ever was before. We were too “tough” and misunderstood back then, and now that the world knows the truth–that we’re not really the tough guys they thought we were–we’re safe.

    In other words, we as a society now seem to believe that power–even when tempered by humanism–is not only overrated, but probably unnecessary. It’s something to be shared or even thrown away.

    And that new belief–if you will–has now trickled into HOW we select our leaders. Think about it:

    Sociable Spartan v.
    Gregarious Jock v.
    Charming, energetic & vulnerable Rod

    What would cause a civilization to select the latter over and over again?

  29. - dupage dan - Friday, Sep 11, 09 @ 1:31 pm:

    Yellow Dog,

    So maybe it was global warming that did the Mayans in? How else can we explain the mysterious droughts every 200 years?

    Sorry, couldn’t help myself.

    I love the history lesson, no kidding. The message I hear is that if it’s too good to be true (everybody gets healthcare and it won’t cost anymore) then it probably is. If the politician tells us what we want to hear then he probably is lying.

    That’s pretty much how I begin to evaluate candidates. It means I end up voting for some candidates who won’t get elected because they are straight talkers. Oh well.

  30. - Secret Square - Friday, Sep 11, 09 @ 1:45 pm:

    How did Blago get elected twice? My theory is, the first time around, it was simply due to people being fed up with George Ryan and ready for a change after 25+ years of Republican control.

    The second time, however, is harder to explain because by that point Blago’s corruption was becoming obvious. However, his ad nauseaum campaign commercials slamming JBT left people with the impression that she was probably just as crooked as he was, so they might as well stick with the devil they know, or with the candidate who told them what they wanted to hear.

    In any event Blago won in 2006 NOT because of any great enthusiasm for him — of those who voted in the general election, slightly more voted AGAINST him than for him — but because 1) his opposition was divided and 2) a big chunk of the electorate didn’t bother to vote at all.

  31. - Dapper Dan - Friday, Sep 11, 09 @ 1:46 pm:

    How did it happen?
    Because Jim Ryan thought the voters were smart enough to realize that he was not George Ryan, while Blago knew the voters were just dumb enough to think one Ryan fits all. Instead of voting for the honest and experienced Jim Ryan, we voted against George Ryan and for Blago. The voters should blame themselves. I’m proud to say that I am a Republican but I voted for Poshard against George Ryan and for Jim Ryan against Blago. I voted for Topinka against Blago also but I didn’t like either one. When we stop looking at party labels and understand the issues, we will quit electing crooks. Was anyone surprised when George Ryan was indicted? Was anyone surprised when Blago was indicted? Of course not!

  32. - Capitol View - Friday, Sep 11, 09 @ 1:58 pm:

    from my perspective, he was an ambitious politician through most of his first term. Some dumb stuff and some sleezy company, but tolerable in Illinois and New Jersey.

    But then Brad Tusk left. And the one close advisor who would tell him “don’t do that” was gone. Blago rapidly dropped to his lowest moral level with his “Jiminy Cricket” out of the way.

    So blame Tusk for leaving, or Blago for letting him go and not replacing him with a comparable advisor / administrator.

  33. - Bubs - Friday, Sep 11, 09 @ 3:08 pm:

    You guys obviously get it. Bonnie Hunt doesn’t get it.

    Blago is just a victim of circumstance! It wasn’t him, it was his father in law, his closest associates, his aides in the Governor’s Office, (and I have it on good information that his dog was partially to blame as well, along with some of the flowers in Blago’s front yard.) THEY did it all. He was just trying to serve the people.

    It’s like with Mayor Daley. Yes, I know that he prides himself on being on top of everything happening in the City and he runs City Hall (along with the entire City) as a virtual dictatorship, but you just have to understand that he knew nothing about a massive criminal hiring scam taking place for years in an office just a few feet from his own on the Fifth Floor, run by a succession of his closest political aides, a couple of whom who wouldn’t of blinked their eyes without clearing it with the Mayor in advance.

    THEY did it all. He was just trying to serve the people.

  34. - Okay Then... - Friday, Sep 11, 09 @ 3:32 pm:

    And Rod’s trial will be in the news for much of next summer and probably leading into the general election. Yay! The Republicans will do well to have some well-timed attack ads during and after local news programs.

  35. - wordslinger - Friday, Sep 11, 09 @ 3:36 pm:

    Yeah, we’re all victims. Walk-on-water saints led astray.

    To a large degree, the minority who bother to vote either have a vested interest or go for the candidate who’s considered least objectionable at the time.

    Some, of course, are true believers. Most don’t bother.

    If you like everything about a candidate, you’re not paying attention.

    Big mystery.

  36. - Yellow Dog - Friday, Sep 11, 09 @ 3:51 pm:

    DuPage Dan ~ I can’t begin to explain the droughts every 208 years, but there’s ample geological evidence to support it, in the sediment layers of old lakes. The one that eventually brought down the Mayans was the worst in 7,000 years, and I suspect we’ll discover some day that it was related to massive volcanic activity or a meteor strike.

    I take two lessons away from the failure and success of civilizations:

    1) When society allows individuals to live far beyond their means and consume far more than is necessary, society eventually collapses.

    2) Complex problems have answers, they just aren’t SIMPLE answers.

    There are many folks who, of course, think that we as Americans are so advanced that we have nothing to learn from the “backward” peoples of the past, or that we can innovate our way out of EVERY problem.

    True, our agriculture is much more advanced than theirs was. But it still takes one farmer to feed every 125 Americans. When I think about how few farmers I know, then see shopping mall after shopping mall across northern Illinois — the most fertile land in the world — it worries me.

    I also remember that those Mayan cities that disappeared practically overnight had been there for over 550 years, and probably thought they’d be there forever. DuSable only settled Chicago about 240 years ago.

  37. - Ida Jablanovec - Saturday, Sep 12, 09 @ 6:51 am:

    I let Eric Zorn read the book, so I didn’t have to buy it. I’m disappointed that I’m not even a footnote. Blago owes me an apology. Not that his character (or lack-there-of) would allow it.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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