You go, Blago!
Governor Blagojevich is the right man for our time, a winking, brash combination of the 1950s wrestler Gorgeous George, Mickey Rourke, Bernie Madoff, Richard Nixon, Jim and Tammy Faye, the old Richard Daly, and Donald Trump.
Over the last few days, in particular, there has been no better public spectacle and political theater in the Roman Forum of our cultural life, 2009, than the Governor's Sherman-like march across the media landscape: shameless and cute, performing his show consistently in front of struggling pros who can't divert him from his game, throwing flames of self-righteousness, oblivious to the backdrop of his impeachment hearings and the indelible wiretaps of his own conniving phone conversations.
We need this guy.
When I first went to El Salvador as a reporter in 1987, the person I wanted most to interview and spend time with right off was a Colonel named Mauricio "The Bull" Staben. Col. Staben had a reputation as a death squad evangelist, allegedly dumping farmers' bodies down wells with a towering amorality brash even by the violent standards of that war-torn country. When I did get to hang out with him, I asked him the origins of his last name. "German, Heil Hitler," he said, his hand going up in a casual Third Reich salute, a cold grin playing across his face. Later, when Nazi Rudolph Hess died in prison, the Colonel told me, "Sorry about Hess."
Of course, he turned out to be much more interesting and complicated than that, and we became friends. But I knew that if you could understand the most fascinating and dynamic characters who inhabited the fringes of a society, whose behavior created the outside cultural borderlines, you would better understand the society itself.
So, yes, Rod Blagojevich is helping us to define our culture, whether we like it or not. He provides the outrage outlet, as Gorgeous George did, the towering hubris and deadpan stonewall we've missed since Mr. Nixon's awkward wave from the departing chopper, the very public mess we can see on Mr. Rourke's face in his latest movie and the pure, air-pumped nerve of Mr. Trump (who wishes he had the natural fluff of the governor's hair, not the delicate engineering feat of The Donald pompadour.)
And I swear I saw him wink at the camera on some show yesterday, as artfully and seductively as Sarah Palin.
I mean, can we do better than this horse-trading, obscenity-fueled self dealer comparing himself on Larry King to Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Ghandi by saying he wasn't comparing himself to those people? "But I tried to reach into history and imagine some inspiring figures that may have gone through something like what I was going through." Yes, Ghandi. That would have occurred to me, too.
Ding! How can you not love this guy?
His losing opponent in the 2006 governor's race says the voters are getting what they deserve. Yes, they are. And maybe what they deserve is a savvy politician - our own Willie Brown, who should know, said Blago was just doing business as usual in the political world of sausage-making where everyone's an oinker at the trough - with a champion's sense of working the media narrative.
Forget the outrage. Let the Illinois legislature and the country's most Eliot Ness-like federal prosecutor sort out the legalities. But the Governor has already proven that the legislature is not where public opinion is formed. It's on TV, stupid.
Then there are the scolds who think that rascals like the Governor, Wall Street's John Thain of Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers' Richard Fuld should be subjected to some kind of public shame. The NY Times Clyde Haberman covers that ground in his column today, quoting Mark Twain saying that "Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to."
Mr. Haberman goes on to wonder at "the string of prominent people behaving in ways that many others consider shameful. Though they ought to be blushing," the writer complains, "they show no sign of doing so." The rest of the column examines ways to make them feel ashamed for their deeds: billboards with their pictures on them, signs around their necks, other forms of public flogging, etc.
Forget that, too. It's like bundled up temperance nuts railing at drinkers and unsuccessfully trying to impose Prohibition.
There's a fundamental concept at play here that argues against trying to make notable misbehavers feel bad:
They can't. They are immune to humiliation. That's how they got where they are. You cannot be a known personality, big celebrity or public figure in our society these days without being able to absorb or deflect loads and waves of humiliation and keep coming back, over and over. It's one of the ways they get to be famous (and stay famous), and it's part of the cost. Just ask Britney Spears, or Elliot Spitzer, who's back giving interviews and writing for Slate, or Bill Clinton.
It's like a fraternity hazing ritual. If you want to join the big boys, you have to undergo mortification, shame, disgrace and public opprobrium again and again and again and still get back up on your feet and proclaim yourself a star.
So let's not waste time being Puritans at a porn shoot.
Let's just surf the spectacular waves of Rod Blagojevich's wild ride.