Blagojevich: Character is Destiny

Look at Blagojevich's life and his checkered tenure as Governor, and the amorality that led him to hang a For Sale sign on the Illinois statehouse door seems to have been part of his character for a very long time.
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The behavior outlined in the Blagojevich indictment is so outrageous, and so hard to grasp on any logical level, it has left highly articulate people grasping for words to describe it -- and him.

"I have a hard time pronouncing his name," David Gergen told Anderson Cooper. "I just call him 'The Idiot'."

And I'm sure that Gergen, a man not normally given to name calling, didn't mean it in a Dostoevskian way. Indeed, Rod Blagojevich is the polar opposite of the author's Prince Myshkin, a man of pure virtue.

As Blago might say: Fuck that! Who needs virtue when there is money to be made shaking down anyone looking to do business with Illinois?

Rep. Jan Schakowsky searched for "a clinically appropriate word" to describe the greedy Governor's profane pathology -- finally settling on "crazy." This was her way of saying that there is no rational explanation for a guy who has been under federal investigation for three years, and has reason to believe his calls are being monitored, using his home phone to rant and rave and cook up dirty deals.

Dr. Schakowsky's opinion is in keeping with previous diagnoses rendered on Rod. It's like an old vaudeville routine:

"The governor is a crook."
"I demand a second opinion!"
"Okay, he's crazy, too."

In a lengthy February 2008 dissection of Blagojevich entitled "Mr. Unpopularity," Chicago magazine described the governor (or quoted others describing him) as "paranoid," "bonkers," a "madman," "insane," filled with "delusions of grandeur," and a "sociopath."

Blagojevich's serial sleaziness wasn't about alleviating what the governor called his family's "financial stress." Indeed, to understand what it was about, we must turn to literature and philosophy -- the only way to get a handle on this political Tony Soprano, a Big Machine capo with a little boy's haircut.

As my compatriot Heraclitus put it so succinctly 2,500 years ago: "Character is destiny."

Look at Blagojevich's life and his checkered tenure as Governor, and the amorality that led him to hang a For Sale sign on the Illinois statehouse door seems to have been part of his character for a very long time: he was a 78-page criminal indictment waiting to happen.

He married into a politically powerful Chicago family, a union that helped take him from a nobody prosecutor trying traffic court cases ("Running a red light is fucking golden. You think I'm gonna let you off for fucking nothing? I'm not gonna do it.") to the governor's mansion in little more than a decade. Soon after taking office, he began delivering favors to those willing to fill his campaign coffers.

As Shakespeare had Cassius lay it out for Brutus: "The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves." And George Meredith described the psychological framework that set the stage for Rod Blagojevich's undoing: "Passions spin the plot: We are betrayed by what is false within."

But unlike recent fallen politicians such as John Edwards and Eliot Spitzer, Blagojevich's spinning passions were not circling his groin -- although he did once brag of his "testicular virility" in standing up to his father-in-law.

When the details of the indictment broke, I wondered where were the people in his life who could have staged an intervention and cried, "Stop!"? Where was his wife?

Then we found out: she was taking part in two-hour conference calls, discussing the selling of Obama's senate seat. Turns out that Patti Blagojevich was Rod's partner in crime -- and profanity. "Hold up that fucking Cubs shit," she suggested, scheming for a way to punish the Tribune's owners for the paper's critical coverage. "Fuck them!"

Countering Heraclitus, Freud contended "anatomy is destiny," suggesting that gender is the primary determinant of our behavior. But, clearly, Patti was not a woman suffering from subpoena envy. Indeed, before Patrick Fitzgerald lowered the boom this week, many reporters and politicos were predicting that Patti, up to her neck in questionable real estate deals with big contributors to her hubby (including some with Tony Rezko), would be indicted before Rod. You know what they say: The family that "pays-to-play" together...

The Blago clan obviously took this to heart. According to Chicago magazine, federal prosecutors "have been looking into the mysterious $1,500 check that Blagojevich's longtime friend Michael Ascaridis gave to the governor's then seven-year-old daughter, Amy, right around the time Ascaridis's wife received a state job."

One thing is certain: Rod Blagojevich is not a student of history. Since the 1970s, three governors of Illinois have been convicted of corruption charges, including the man who preceded Blagojevich in office, George Ryan, who is currently better known as Federal Inmate Number 16627-424. He is serving time in a medium security facility in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Probably not the location Blago had in mind when he said: "I can parachute me there."

Please check out one of my favorite new HuffPost features, Julian Zelizer's Book Corner. Julian, a professor at Princeton, puts the spotlight on books relevant to our current political conversation.

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