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The People Don't Hate Blagojevich

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The People Don't Hate Blagojevich

Jack Higgins

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Here’s a message to every Illinois political insider who’s prepared to throw up if the Rod Blagojevich trial results in a hung jury: you may hate Blagojevich, but ordinary people don’t.

In Sunday’s Chicago Tribune, Blago-hater Eric Zorn was in denial about the prospect of Blagojevich beating the rap.

"After closing arguments, I was among those who believed there was almost no chance Blagojevich would walk. Not in federal court. Not with the wording of the laws being as cold and merciless as they are. Not with the weight of evidence that Blagojevich violated those laws."

Blagojevich has always been despised by lawyers, journalists and his fellow politicians. After the 2002 primary, I heard a spokesman for a prominent Democrat grumble that “everyone with a brain voted for Paul Vallas.” If that were true, there were a lot of brainless voters, because Blagojevich won the primary, then the governorship.

In 14 years of submitting himself to the public’s verdict, Blagojevich never lost an election.

After his arrest, Blagojevich was impeached by the General Assembly, indicted by the U.S. Attorney’s office and ridiculed in the press. But in this trial, for the first time since December 2008, he’s not being judged by lawyers, journalists or politicians. He’s being judged by the same voters who elected him governor.

If man-on-the street reactions to this trial are any indication, some jurors see Blagojevich as a not-so-smooth talker who was caught on tape trying to pull off the kinds of deals that politicians make every day.

This may be hard for House Speaker Michael Madigan to accept, but there are people out there who think Blagojevich is no worse than any other Springfield officeholder. The political class may have convicted him, but many members of the public see his misdeeds as nothing more than violations of an insiders’ code. Sure, he was a bad governor who couldn’t get along with the legislature. But that doesn’t make him a criminal.

In the George Ryan trial, there was an actual body. Six bodies, in fact, the number of Willis children killed by a truck driver who bought a license from Ryan’s corrupt Secretary of State’s office. There’s no body in this trial. The prosecution never demonstrated that Blagojevich profited from his schemes. Blagojevich ran afoul of Michael Madigan and U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, but he may have enough members of the public on his side to avoid prison.

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