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Blagojevich is now drowning alone

Friday, Jun 11, 2010

* My Sun-Times column today is about Rod Blagojevich’s fate

Back when I knew him, Rod Blagojevich loved to play Lifeboat.

You probably played the game when you were a kid, but Blagojevich seemed to get particular enjoyment out of it when he was governor.

In case you aren’t familiar with the rules, the game went like this: Suppose you are in a lifeboat and you have room for only one other person, but two people are in the water and almost drowning. Which one would you save?

The first time we played Lifeboat was after we talked at length one day about his long, brutal legislative war with House Speaker Michael Madigan and his disgust with Attorney General Lisa Madigan for launching a corruption probe against him. I eventually tossed a question out about which of the two Blagojevich hated more.

“Do you mean, if they were both in the water and I was on a lifeboat and only had room for one which one would I save and which would I let die?” Blagojevich asked.

I thought his question was a tad bit on the extreme side, not to mention juvenile, but I went with it.

After a long pause he said, “I’d probably save the old man,” meaning the speaker. Blagojevich explained that as much as the two had fought, he admired the way the “old man” had raised his son Andrew, who, indeed, has grown up quite well.

Another day, we were talking about the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who had just held a press conference in opposition to Blagojevich’s doomed gross receipts tax on business. Blagojevich told a reporter that Jackson was just shilling for his financial backers. I thought it was ironic at the time, and it’s even more so now.

The conversation led to a long diatribe about Jackson’s son, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. Back when he was still a congressman, Blagojevich had gone out of his way to befriend Congressman Jackson.

The ultimate goal, Blagojevich explained, was to secure Congressman Jackson’s endorsement when he ran for governor. Blagojevich said he actually did lock down that endorsement. But then Roland Burris jumped into the race, and Jackson backed away. Jackson hemmed and hawed and hinted at a large campaign contribution, Blagojevich confided, then ultimately broke his pledge.

Blagojevich felt betrayed. And when we played Lifeboat on the two men, he couldn’t decide and joked that he’d probably let both of them drown.

And now, it’s Rod Blagojevich’s turn in the water. And nobody’s throwing him a lifeline.

One of his best friends in the world, Lon Monk, has spent the week testifying against Blagojevich during his corruption trial. The only other great friend Blagojevich had, Chris Kelly, killed himself right before his last chance to make his own choice.

Except for his wife, all of Blagojevich’s defense witnesses that we know of so far are being compelled to testify via subpoena, including Rep. Jackson. Almost everyone else who ever had any contact with him has lined up with the prosecution.

No matter how many times Blagojevich played Lifeboat, it apparently never occurred to him that he should live his life in a way that somebody would throw him a line if the going ever got rough. Rod was always about Rod. Even when he was helping somebody else, it was all about him, and he always made sure you knew it.

And now, all the lifeboats, full or not, have drifted away, while he furiously dogpaddles and ponders his end amidst the whitecaps, probably wondering why nobody feels even a little guilty for letting him drown alone.

I’ll have a full recap of the Blagojevich trial in a bit, but I wanted this one to stand alone. Thoughts?

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - nick guzinya - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 9:30 am:

    Maybe my favorite SunTimes article you have written.

  2. - anon - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 9:43 am:

    I used to think that lots of smart people worked hard for him and believed in him. Now i realize that lots of good, smart people worked hard for him because they believed that he was doing good things for people (health care, education, equal pay, etc…), but most were suspicious of his relationship with rezko and kelly. ignorance is bliss, especially if you turn a blind eye to bad behavior because you believe that there is some greater good coming from it.

    the whole thing is just sad.

  3. - El Conquistador - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 9:48 am:

    In reading some of the accounts of the trial I get a sense that seeing Lon Monk on the stand has made Blago finally realize that his life hangs in the balance. I really don’t think he made that connection until that moment. Up until now he has been laughing it all off and making his appearances. Rod has always managed to slip by (law school, elections, etc.) and I think he truly thought he would somehow slip through the Fed’s nets. His anxiousness in the courtroom and glaring stares at Monk indicate to me that the gravity of his situation may, at long last, be setting in.

  4. - Phineas J. Whoopee - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 9:51 am:

    Somebody really ought to throw Rob Blago a line and pull him out of the mess he is in. His baby bro gave him a ticket on the Titanic and there were no more lifeboats.

  5. - Madame Defarge - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 9:51 am:

    Anon–you will see a lot more of the Sgt Schultz defense in the coming weeks and months–they all knew nothing they all saw nothing

  6. - Justice - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 9:54 am:

    The hardest person to judge is a liar. Once the truth is revealed you are left with disappointment and disgust for that lying liar.

    I will play lifeboat with him and in my generosity for all he has done to screw over thousands of hardworking state employees, I’ll throw him more chain than he can swim with.

    You might say that I am hard on him…..lucky first guess.

  7. - Greg B. - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 9:54 am:

    At what point does a narcissist recognize his predicament? It’s the hardest personality disorder to treat because you can’t get them to recognize the issue. The question is: Can a federal jury get him to recognize his narcism?

    I actually pity the self destructiveness.

  8. - Cindy Lou - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 9:56 am:

    My 2 cents thinks Blagojevich is not capable of sitting still nor of paying attention without gesture, mutters and foot tappings. I’ll not be surprised if he gets himself tossed out of actual room and has to watch/partake by screen in a seperate room.

  9. - VanillaMan - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 9:56 am:

    Love the column!
    The entire ‘lifeboat’ angle is a first rate metaphor. Well presented, easy to follow, and closes perfectly. I liked it very much!

  10. - just sayin' - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 9:56 am:

    Good insight. Although it’s not a huge surprise no one would be left on Rod’s side. The G holds all the cards.

    Guys like G. Gordon Liddy from Watergate who were willing to defend their boss to the end and spend a lot more time in prison as a result are few and far between.

  11. - Justice - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 9:56 am:

    And by the way Rich, excellent column.

  12. - helen - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 9:58 am:

    one never gets away with anything, someone is always watching.
    I hope all of the people who bought their State job is watching and waiting their turn??

  13. - South Side Mike - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 10:01 am:

    You know, I wonder what his answer would have been two years ago and then today if the game were played and his choices were Rich Miller and Patrick Fitzgerald. I think his answer would be the same as for the Jacksons, for he would never save Fitzgerald, and if he saved Rich, he knows that Rich would then throw him overboard and save Fitz!

  14. - Illinois Tollway 6 - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 10:01 am:

    Now he knows how it feels when some steals your your job. All for the betterment of ROD!
    He still has no idea the hardships he has caused my family.

  15. - Stooges - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 10:02 am:

    Great column. What a window into that muddled mind. I am right with Justice, he worked over so many innocent people just because he could, I have no mercy for him.

  16. - Six Degrees of Separation - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 10:02 am:

    Maybe my favorite SunTimes article you have written.


    Most people in a position of exposure would play their cards a little closer to the vest.

    I heard a reliable source tell a story of the Gov encountering Tom Cross in a hallway at the statehouse, and saying “When are you guys going to %^&* Madigan?” within earshot of several people. The guy obviously loves to talk and is enamored with himself. No matter how much he tries to stay “on message”, his mouth will not be able to stop when it counts, and will ultimately be his undoing.

  17. - Secret Square - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 10:06 am:

    I do feel sorry for Robert Blagojevich in all this… he seems like an honorable guy who thought he was doing his little bro a favor and got in way over his head.

    How likely is it, given the conviction rate of the feds and the way they run things, that Rod would be convicted and Robert acquitted (which is what I am hoping for)?

  18. - Fed Up - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 10:10 am:

    Very well said!

  19. - wordslinger - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 10:11 am:

    Harry Truman said if you want a loyal friend in Washington, get a dog.

    Rod’s an extreme case, of course, in his lack of friends and defenders. But politics, like crime, seems to attract people who are willing to let their “friends” go down to ensure their own survival.

  20. - lincolnlover - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 10:14 am:

    As always, Rich Miller nails it. Great column.

  21. - grand old partisan - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 10:23 am:

    Two thoughts –

    (1) I think this is a fascinating anecdote, and very revealing about Blago’s twisted psyche. Taking your question of who he hates more and turning it into a game of who he’d let live and who he’d let die a painful, watery death isn’t just “extreme” and “juvenile” - it’s downright chilling. A great example of the god complex that sociopaths often have. My wife and I were recently talking about the similarities between Blago and Drew Peterson, and I remarked at the time that Drew was the more sinister because he actually killed people (‘allegedly’). While it’s still true that Blago didn’t kill anyone, I’m starting to think it has more to do with the fact that it never served a practical interest for him to do so – and not because he didn’t have the moral capacity (or lack thereof) to do so.

    (2) Blago was delusional to think that anyone around him would be loyal enough to take the fall. He’s not Daley (although I understand he has been mistaken for him repeatedly by little African American children), and even Fawell dished on George in the end. I knew once they started the investigation that it was going to go quick – much quicker than Ryan’s. The difference between Ryan and Blago is like the difference between Capone and the ringleader of the neighborhood hoodlums. What made this man think he was loved and/or feared enough to command such loyalty?

  22. - PaddyBonner - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 10:26 am:

    “True friends stab you in the front.” Oscar Wilde

  23. - bored now - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 10:27 am:

    oh, i think rod had friends. they were just corrupt. and he seemed to seek out people with just that quality.

    i agree with the sentiments above: great column…

  24. - 47th Ward - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 10:29 am:

    Great column Rich. Thanks.

    A good lesson about ambition includes this admonishment: When climbing the ladder of success, be careful of who you step on as you reach for the top, because those are the ones who might extend a hand once you fall from your perch.

    Rod stomped on a lot of people on the way up, and no one is helping break his fall now.

  25. - dupage dan - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 10:33 am:

    Secret Square,

    Rob’s best bet now would be to turn on his brother and testify against him. No way he gets a pass but he may be able to avoid a long sentence if he moves now. The clock is winding down fast.

    Great column, Rich. If it were anyone else you were talking about it might even evoke some sympathy.

    I take no pleasure in seeing RB twist in the wind. This is a job that must be done. The cancer must be removed. I just hope the folk can learn from this and stop smokin’ the stuff that brought on this disease.

  26. - zatoichi - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 10:35 am:

    My father used to say you can mess with people, cheat your way through, and get away with it for some time. Eventually it catches up to you and you will pay a price you cannot afford. Blago, Madoff, Lehman, lots of examples in the news. Unfortunately, lots more to come. Great article.

  27. - wordslinger - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 10:36 am:

    The weirdest thing about Blago is that he proceeded in all this while Ryan was on trial. He knew there was big heat, but he never slowed down.

  28. - Secret Square - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 10:39 am:

    “What made this man think he was loved and/or feared enough to command such loyalty?”

    Maybe “Bill” has some ideas…

  29. - dupage dan - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 10:40 am:


    You just defined chutzpah!

  30. - Oswego Willy - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 10:42 am:

    1) Rich, very well done. This is the kind of background that puts Rod in perspective that takes away the TV caricature, the clown, the showman … and you get just a snapshot of what could be seen as his inner beliefs and thoughts …

    2) The only time you hear about a polarizing politician in a favorable light is at death or retirement … when leaving office was not at the hand of the Federales, or their own ignorance, you are reminded all too well why you are not minding the slow drip to the forhead of that figure. That being said, Rod is the guy that everyone in the room is waiting for that day to come that, not only would he be gone, but is given a Dante’s Inferno sendoff … getting his just desserts, and yet you hope there is no remorse by Rod so the complete sting of HIS inferno will torment him as long as he is around.

    I feel absolutely terrible for his daughters. As Dick Mell went through all his personal agonies these past few years, those daughters are loved by Mell and that family, and maybe as Rod goes to his inferno, a true healing for the daughters, and Mell’s own daughters for that matter, could take place, piecing together the Mell family.

  31. - M-14 - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 10:43 am:

    Those Illinois Tollway employees got railroaded by Blagojevich and his administrative goons. They were outstanding thoughtful individuals who strived to make the Illinois Tollway a better place. Unfortunately the Illinois Tollway is far from a better place anymore.
    My prayers go out to them and their families.
    They are missed!

  32. - Tunes - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 10:47 am:

    Great column! I also pity this fool because he is literally so narcissistic “Sufficient unto himself, he becomes more and more self-absorbed - either hyper-vulnerable to every slight, or brutally bullying his way to the ‘top’ whose twin peaks are his own self-aggrandisement and the denigration of others.” …. he fails to see his own flaws. Kinda sad really, but I do not feel sorry for him. You’d think he’d be smart enough to be a litle more discreet if he was going to venture into these waters! As an outgoing state employee, and from my own personal experience (31 years in mananagment), his office put a stranglehold on hiring, puchasing, etc. that made it much more difficult than ever to get the job that were paid to do done- during his reign. I just hope that our state can somehow recover from the mess it is in.

  33. - Responsa - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 10:50 am:

    These past weeks what I wonder about frequently are the nameless faceless (at least to the general public) people who might have been tempted to get involved with all the Blago shenanigans but had the sense, the morality, the upbringing, the sanity, to steer clear–and are so relieved that they did. Blago and his one-time associates (including his brother) all had choices to make. Some obviously chose better than others. There are some good guys in all of this and I raise my glass to them.

  34. - Macbeth - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 10:55 am:

    The weirdest thing about Blago is that he proceeded in all this while Ryan was on trial. He knew there was big heat, but he never slowed down

    In general one only need to listen to politicians and preachers and figure out what they speak loudest about. Once that’s identified, that’s usually what they’re guilty of themselves — and probably why they’re so vocal about it in the first place.

    Ted Haggard, for example, comes to mind. Newt Gingrich. Rod Blagojevich. It’s a *long* list — and usually has to do with some sort “ethical transgression” that they blame other folks for.

    And now here we are.

  35. - Dooley Dudright - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 11:00 am:

    If we’re going all nautical and marine today — then let’s recall Moby Dick .

    As the doomed ship Pequod gets sucked into a whirlpool, Queequeg’s coffin pops up out of the water. Ishmael clings to it, and survives — “alone to tell the tale”.

    All he needs is one juror, right?

    On this basis — permit me to suggest the opening line for Blago’s next book:

    “Call me Milorad”.

  36. - Secret Square - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 11:04 am:

    A true “Dante’s Inferno sendoff” would mean spending eternity submerged in a river of boiling tar — the punishment assigned to corrupt politicians in The Inferno.

    Dante also heavily populated that particular circle of hell with aldermen from the Italian city of Lucca (”Santa Zita’s elders”), where “yes is no, and no is yes for a fee” — his own dig at 13th-century “pay to play” politics.

  37. - Peggy SO-IL - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 11:08 am:

    Excellent column. While we don’t like & even despise some evil bad guys, there’s often a real human tragedy of character flaws playing out underneath.

  38. - Oswego Willy - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 11:12 am:

    Everyone I have run across wnats “justice to be served”, but I came to this conclusion of a Dante’s Inferno as the only true punishment, because he is so delusional. Every state worker, every group, orgainzation, municipality, etc., he just blatently lied to, or shook down.. the only fair way to get the pound of flesh is to be in the Hell of Dante and travel in a trip that would never end.

    Then … I would feel justice would be proportionately sreved for his alleged crimes.

  39. - Rich Miller - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 11:17 am:

    ===All he needs is one juror, right?===

    For a mistrial. They’ll try him again, though. Bank on it.

  40. - Northside Bunker - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 11:18 am:

    David Letterman sums it up best, better than a year ago.
    Feb 3, 2009 …
    “I really wouldn’t give your troubles to a monkey on a rock.”
    Blago still doesn’t get it. Neither does his wife.

    Great column Rich!

  41. - Fan - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 11:31 am:

    Wow Rich, excellent column.

  42. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 11:35 am:

    Rod Blagojevich is even worse than that.

    Blago could probably cut a deal in exchange for dropping the charges against his brother and agreeing not to prosecute the mother of his children (if the charges are true, Patti was most surely part of the conspiracy).

    But instead, he’d rather drag his brother and his wife down with him than drown alone.

  43. - Irish - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 11:39 am:

    Excellent column Rich. Puts in simple terms what kind of person he is. Where most people would play that game in a tongue and cheek manner, Blago meant he would do exactly what he said he would do.
    I think the Narcissistic angle is the correct one. And no I don’t think the realization has sunk in yet. I don’t think it will until he hears the clank of the cell door behind him.

  44. - Vole - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 11:40 am:

    I want to know: who was the first person to have the number on the group of four and expose them publicly?

    Some people who had dealings with these characters had to have know something from the get go in Rod’s first term.

    Was his father in law, Mell, the first or were others raising the red flag before him?

    Did some people in the “know” shirk their duty to inform because they were also somehow getting their share or the corrupt system was benefiting them and their constituents, i.e. serving up the “where’s mine”? How many people in government shirked their ethical duty to expose and decided instead to play along?

  45. - Excessively Rabid - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 12:02 pm:

    One of your best columns.

    Throw him an anvil.

  46. - dupage dan - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 12:03 pm:


    Where have you been for the last 8 years? Did you just move to Illinois? Perhaps you have recovered from a long coma? Maybe you were living under a rock? Just askin’

  47. - Louis Howe - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 12:06 pm:

    Rich….Excellent column, interesting choice, and well presented storyline.

    However, Blago would have been much better off if he was conversant with the classic choice presented by the “Prisoner’s Dilemma (see below, Wikipedia). The optimum strategy in a single occurrence game is to cooperate/defect.
    Prisoner’s Dilemma:

    Two suspects are arrested by the police. The police have insufficient evidence for a conviction, and, having separated both prisoners, visit each of them to offer the same deal. If one testifies (defects from the other) for the prosecution against the other and the other remains silent (cooperates with the other), the betrayer goes free and the silent accomplice receives the full 10-year sentence. If both remain silent, both prisoners are sentenced to only six months in jail for a minor charge. If each betrays the other, each receives a five-year sentence. Each prisoner must choose to betray the other or to remain silent. Each one is assured that the other would not know about the betrayal before the end of the investigation. How should the prisoners act?

  48. - Siriusly - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 1:01 pm:

    one of your best columns to date

    I always assumed, maybe wrongly, that Jay Hoffman was around and involved in some of those inner circle meetin gs. Is Rod not calling him to testify?

  49. - Secret Square - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 1:02 pm:

    Re Dante’s Inferno: if I remember my Cliff Notes correctly, the river of boiling tar (pitch, as it was called then) was supposed to symbolize the sticky fingers of bribe-taking officials. But the more I think about it, considering the role road projects/contracts have played in many Illinois political scandals, it would be entirely fitting for unrepentant perpetrators to spend eternity submerged in hot tar, or better yet, asphalt :-)

  50. - 47th Ward - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 1:12 pm:

    Good point Siriusly,

    What would Hoffman testify to, assuming he’d tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth? If it’s a truth-telling contest, Rod should be happy Jay is 300 miles south of the courtroom this summer.

    Jay who?

  51. - Vole - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 1:18 pm:


    Where have you been for the last 8 years? Did you just move to Illinois? Perhaps you have recovered from a long coma? Maybe you were living under a rock? Just askin’”

    DD: I am curious, who first started asking seriously and publicly about Rod and his close advisers? And who in positions to know decided to just look the other way?

    Rod is on trial, but our entire state system is too. Just hope that more names come out and they have some explaining to do.

  52. - dupage dan - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 2:04 pm:


    I repeat, “where have you been for the last 8 years?”

    Really, the questions you ask reveal that you either have not lived in this state for the last 8 years or you have not been paying attention. The information you seek has been discussed at length both in the MSM and on this blog. You should educate yourself on the facts and the chronology - it’s gonna be a long summer.

  53. - wordslinger - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 2:39 pm:

    –In general one only need to listen to politicians and preachers and figure out what they speak loudest about. Once that’s identified, that’s usually what they’re guilty of themselves — and probably why they’re so vocal about it in the first place.–

    LOL. My favorite of recent vintage is George Rekers of the Family Research Council contracting with for an escort to “lift his luggage” while traveling.

  54. - Vole - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 3:46 pm:

    DD: Please tell me, who started throwing up the red flags on Blago, and who in the state government other than his co conspirators aided and abetted his actions? I hope many names come up in the trial. Blago had way too many life lines hanging in the water and too many people including those in the state legislature facilitated his sins by consensual pulling.

  55. - Phineas J. Whoopee - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 4:12 pm:



    It was Dick Mell. Blagos father in law.

    I’m actually wondering whether el mell is thinking “that’ll teach ‘em for leaving me out” or whether he is thinking “maybe I shoulda kept my mouth shut”?

  56. - Bookworm - Friday, Jun 11, 10 @ 6:08 pm:

    Blago’s attitude about the “lifeboat” dilemma makes me thankful that he left the moratorium on capital punishment in place. If he hadn’t, I hate to think what he might have done when death row inmates started asking him for reprieves or commutations.. would he have found a way to sell or horse-trade those too?

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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