And then Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich
gets hauled off to jail in the early-morning hours of Dec. 9
wearing—you guessed it—sweatpants. It’s guilt by association (or
alleged guilt by alleged association). Soon the titans of the
sweatpants industry will be appearing before congressional committees
to seek a bailout, lest their impoverished sweatshop employees in
Indonesia lose their jobs.
Everyone keeps talking about the bad
economy and blaming it on a lack of confidence in the markets. So let’s
hear it for Governor Rod, who believed so intensely in the free market
that he was willing to let a U.S. Senate seat be determined by the laws
of supply and demand. He wasn’t crying for a bailout: He was upholding
the sanctity of American capitalism. Rod Blagojevich should be Time
magazine’s Man of the Year. With his Jose Canseco good looks, his Tony
Soprano tough talk and his Serbian-American heritage, he represents the
new face of a multicultural America.
You have to admit it was starting to get a little boring.
The president-elect was setting a tone of cool and competent, but not
too exciting. The top shelf of the Cabinet had been filled out. The
best thing people could find to talk about was the choice of the first
family’s dog. Following an administration in which the sitting vice
president actually shot a guy in the face, this was looking pretty
tame. Everyone was settling in for an early-winter snooze until
Well, thank God for Blagojevich. The
governor of Illinois did what no one on the Chicago Cubs was able to do
this year: He came through in the clutch. Governor Rod even shocked
Chicago reporters with the boldness of his corruption (allegedly). Rod
was trying to faithfully discharge his duties by selecting a senator to
replace the man who had just been elected president, when it occurred
to him that such a valuable post could best be filled by putting it on
the market. The black market, that is.
Letting the Senate seat once held by
Lincoln go to the highest bidder—that is refreshingly original. (I have
searched high and low on eBay, and as far as I can tell, this is the
first time a Senate seat has been offered at auction). A lot of
governors give lip service to the notion of public-private
partnerships, but Governor Rod was walking the walk. His willingness to
trust the private sector should be an inspiration to General Motors.
Maybe when he gets out of jail they can get Rod to threaten to burn
down your house if you won’t buy a Hummer.
Governor Rod was reinventing government,
letting the market—not the government—decide who should be senator.
Kind of like it decides which banks survive and which ones die
(allegedly). Blagojevich wasn’t afraid to outsource even the
constitutionally mandated functions of a governor to the private
sector—and apparently no one appreciated it.
This has been a tough year for
governors. Eliot Spitzer gets nailed for not wearing enough clothes,
Sarah Palin gets in trouble for wearing too many clothes, and now
Governor Rod gets hauled off to court in sweatpants.
It’s also looking like lonely times for
the Senate, which may convene in January with three empty seats.
Minnesota can’t decide between the incumbent and the comedian, Al
Franken. No one wants to sit in the Illinois seat after Governor Rod
has fouled the air. And in New York, everyone seems to feel they have a
legitimate claim to the Senate chair being vacated by Hillary Clinton.
That includes Caroline Kennedy.
Democrats across the state are lining up behind this famous woman, who
has been an exemplary mother, patron of the arts and supporter of
charities. Some even point to her experience. What experience? Kennedy
has this much in common with George W. Bush: No one in either of their
large and very political families would have considered them as the
family’s prime pick as a candidate for political office.
Yet people who ridiculed Palin can find
it in themselves to endorse Kennedy. Palin, it was said, was nominated
for vice president because she is a woman, and she is good-looking.
Kennedy is being put forward because she is a woman, she is
good-looking, and she is a Kennedy. Pretty thin gruel. To replace a
woman of the caliber of Hillary Clinton with someone who has never
entered a political contest would represent a step backward for women
Most Democrats promoting Caroline
Kennedy believe that she would be most successful at raising money to
defend the Senate seat in 2010. This argument is the best gift we can
give to the Blagojevich defense team: We should give the Senate seat to
the one who can come up with the biggest pile of cash. See what I mean?
Sweatpants aside, Governor Rod was ahead of the curve!
If Gov. David Paterson is seeking a
qualified woman for the Clinton seat, he should look in his own back
yard. Saratoga-area Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand has a family and takes a
nice picture, like Kennedy, but she also has a record to stand on.
Gillibrand is smart, she’s been elected twice, she’s a woman,
and—here’s the bonus for us—she’s from upstate.
The last time New York had a senator
from upstate was Charles Goodell of Jamestown, appointed to fill the
seat after Robert F. Kennedy’s murder in 1968. Goodell, who had a son
named Roger who went on to become commissioner of the National Football
League, did not win election to the seat. The last time we elected a
senator from upstate was Kenneth Keating, of Lima, in the 1950s.
Since then it’s been decades of
downstaters and—coincidence or not—a screeching decline in the upstate
economy. Putting Kirsten Gillibrand in the Senate would be a good step
toward getting upstate a real voice in the halls of power. Just don’t
put any money on it.