It's Still Blago's World

One year after arrest, we're still living in it

Later this month, Rod Blagojevich will debate a Columbia College professor about the merits of the Elvis Presley film Viva Las Vegas.

If Blagojevich were still the governor, this would be charming.

But being an indicted ex-governor who actually really needs the $75 he'll reportedly get paid for the appearance, it smacks of pathetic desperation.

How far Blagojevich has fallen in the year since federal agents knocked on the door at his Ravenswood home to take him in. What followed was unimaginable. Not the wheels of the legal machinery, mind you, but who in their right mind would have thought Blagojevich's arrest - and subsequent impeachment and removal from office - would have turned him and his wife into pop culture stars?

Of course, the joke has been on the Blagos every step of the way, though Patti gained a measure of respect for acting the adult in a jungle of overgrown B-list children on I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here! 

And Blagojevich's novel media strategy has worked in persuading some national commentators not familiar with the facts (we're talking about you, Geraldo Rivera) that the ex-gov is getting a raw deal. Blago has presumably gained a measure of sympathy from a nation of his peers as well -- by design.

But once he gets in a courtroom, the cold, hard truth will likely sink in and send Blago to prison.

And as much as Blago has played along with the jokes, there are real victims, none so much as his former law school roommate Chris Kelly, the gambling addict whom Blago put in charge of the state's gambling policy. Amid a host of problems, including an imminent prison date on charges unrelated to the Blago case and pressure from federal agents to flip on his old pal, Kelly swallowed a handful of pills and killed himself.

Blago continues to leave a trail of destruction behind. Our state's politics are still dominated by reacting to what Blago wrought.

Consider Roland Burris. Without Blago, he'd still be quietly scrambling for law clients instead of in a position to scuttle President Obama's health care proposal.

Consider the U.S. Senate race to fill Obama's old seat. If it were not for Blago's shenanigans, the Democratic primary field would likely be considerably stronger (possibly including U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. or his congressional colleague Jan Schakowsky) than the one that might lose to Republican Mark Kirk.

Consider Gov. Pat Quinn, who is, well, the governor. That alone is astounding, but the truth is that without Blagojevich, Quinn doesn't come a million miles from winning a term on his own.

Blagojevich has also, in a roundabout way, exposed just how difficult reform is in Illinois. It takes more than Blago's hijinks, in other words, to change our corrupt political culture. How much more is a question that only House Speaker Mike Madigan can answer.

The saga isn't nearly over, either. Blagojevich's trial is scheduled to begin in June. So we'll spend half of 2010 talking about the upcoming trial, a few months living through it, and the rest of the year discussing what happened.

All indications are that things are just going to get weirder. Evidence stolen from his lawyers' office? The only thing that could make that better is a clown car speeding away from the scene.

And now Blago is playing the God Card. This is all just part of God's plan, Blago says.

Maybe so.

At this point, nothing is unbelievable.

Steve Rhodes is the proprietor of The Beachwood Reporter, a Chicago-centric news and culture review.

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