Monday, June 27, 2011

Vindication perhaps, but no satisfaction

There are some who believe that a vote for a candidate not running on the ticket of either of the two major parties is a wasted vote. In the 2000 presidential election, I cast my vote for Ralph Nader, knowing full well he had no chance to win. Back then I didn't believe that either candidate of the major parties was qualified to be president. After the outcome of that election was finally decided in January of 2001, I was chastised by my Democratic relatives, friends and colleagues, some of whom blamed me for the George W. Bush victory. They were wrong by a mere technicality as Al Gore won the State of Illinois where I reside, making my vote irrelevant thanks to the Electoral College. Had I voted in Florida, it would have been a different story.

But I digress. Since I always go to the polls on election day, a third, forth or fifth party candidate for me is a viable option, if for nothing other than a no vote. This week there was some vindication in my voting strategy as our former governor Rod Blagojevich was convicted of 17 out of 20 counts of crimes related to corruption committed while he was the Chief Executive of this state. I can honestly say that I did not vote for Blagojevich in either of his elections for governor, both times I voted for third party candidates, but please don't ask me their names.

I never really liked Blago, what he stood for, his bluster, his arrogant posturing and his sheer demagoguery. I considered his pretexts in the first election, about being the reform candidate riding a white horse ready to sweep out all the corruption of the George Ryan administration to be a joke given his pedigree as the son-in-law and former protege of the Chicago alderman Richard Mell.

Bloago's shameless 11th hour demand that seniors ride free on Chicago's public transit systems before he would sign hard fought legislation to send much needed relief money to avoid draconian service cuts and fare hikes nearly put me through the roof. Not to mention that he left the State of Illinois in far worse shape when he unceremoniously left office than when he found it after his first election.

I was almost giddy the day federal marshals arrested Blago at his north side Chicago home two and a half years ago, cock sure that he was deserving of the slammer. Talking to a friend, one much calmer and wiser that I, someone who has knowledge of how these things work, I learned that Blago wasn't really all that different from any other elected official. Deals such as the ones for which he got into trouble, are everyday occurrences as quid pro quo is an integral part of politics. You do something for me, I do something for you, it's not a big deal. Where he crossed the very fine line between legality and crookery, was his foolish tendency to ask openly for rewards (usually campaign donations) in return for his favors, even bragging about them at times, most notably his control over Barack Obama's former senate seat. In other words, he had a big mouth.

To paraphrase Studs Terkel, "he was not the most corrupt politician, he was the most theatrically corrupt."

I thought justice was served when he was tried and convicted on one count of perjury in his first trial last year. The jury in that trial could not agree on the verdict for several more counts which brought us this second trial. My feeling was that the prosecutors should have been satisfied with convicting Blago on the one count which made him a convicted felon who more than likely would be spending time in the house with many doors. I didn't see any purpose in spending more time and public money, in this case for both the prosecution and the defense, going after him again for every count that the first jurors couldn't agree upon. But that's exactly what they did.

In the end there is not much satisfaction for me in any of the events that transpired this week. Frankly, I was hoping for an acquittal on all the remaining charges. We watched the end unfold at my mother's apartment in a high rise in River North. From our vantage point there, we could see no fewer than four TV helicopters flying over the Kennedy Expressway getting live footage of the procession of the black SUV that carried Blago and his wife Patti to their home after the verdict was read. "Let's go home I can't bear to watch anymore..." said my wife as the SUV approached their Ravenswood home with scores of reporters waiting to jump on the couple as they got out of the car. In perfect contrast to my wife, my mother said: "Oh wait I wanted to see this."

We didn't wait, both of us had a bad taste in our mouths. "He just seemed so small and sad" were the words of a co-worker who lives only a few blocks from the ex-governor. Indeed, Rod Blagojevich is a talented man who lost everything because of notoriously bad judgment. He and his family are broke, his integrity is in shambles and saddest of all, his two young children had to suffer because of this whole unfortunate mess, and will suffer even more while their father is behind bars.

The prosecutors got their "slam dunk" as the press kept referring to their almost complete victory. In the end, had they not chosen to continue their prosecution after the first trial, Blagojevich likely would have received about five years in prison for the one conviction. Now with all the additional convictions, most of the pundits are predicting seven to ten years in all likelihood. Two to five extra years for all this circus, was it worth it? I don't think so.

In fact I'm not entirely sure that anyone is served with Blago behind bars. The way I see it, there are three reasons you send someone to jail, public safety, punishment, and detriment. I think Blagojevich's only threat to public safety is as an elected official, which with his conviction, would be highly unlikely to happen ever again. Removal from office, public scandal and humiliation are certainly severe punishments in themselves, and as for detriment, well three recent Illinois governors having served time before him in prison didn't deter Blago so I'm not sure what effect his doing time will have on future governors.

I mentioned in passing to a friend at work that I didn't think the world would really be any better off with Rod Blagojevich in prison. "Do you really want to see him appear non stop on TV after all this?" was his response.

Well on second thought...

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