The Green Papers
The Green Papers

The Blagojevich Senate seat selling scandal and
how it affects (or doesn't) the President-elect

by Richard E. Berg-Andersson Staff
Thu 11 Dec 2008

It was well "out there" even by the political standards of Chicago itself.

A city that has produced such a wealth of what can only politely be called "Organization Politics", in which the palms of politicians get greased as much as the wheels of politics per se (and, before you jump on me for having said this Chicagoland, please keep in mind that I grew up in- and am currently a citizen of- a State, New Jersey, that would give Illinois a pretty good run for its "questionable political activities" money, one that produced such luminaries as long-time Atlantic County Republican boss Frank "Hap" Farley and, of course, the Hudson County Democrats' [in?]famous Frank "I am the Law" Hague of Jersey City: also keep in mind that a not all that-long ago generation of Garden Staters once lauded Hague much in the same way my fellow Jerseyans of today, somehow, feel that The Sopranos is a very good way of getting my Garden State its due notice on the national stage)- a city that has given the world its own organizational giants such as "Big Bill" Thompson and Anton "Tony" Cermak (who ended up taking a bullet evidently meant for then-President-elect Franklin Delano Roosevelt), the ("Big Ed") Kelly-("Pat") Nash machine and, of course, the still overarching sizeable shadow cast over the city by one Richard J. Daley, father of the current Mayor of the City of the Big Shoulders well straddling the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan- was absolutely stunned by what has so recently transpired with the arrest of the Governor of the State of Illinois and his Chief of Staff by Federal authorities on various charges of political corruption.

(And, say what you will about such political men of Chicago as I've named in the previous paragraph, they usually did get things done. Chicago, for example, is known as one of the most efficient at cleaning up snowfall from its streets [only the Granite State of New Hampshire- should a foot or more of the white stuff fall on the eve of Presidential Primary Day- is in Chicago's league in this regard]; or, at least when Chicago might actually fail in this particular endeavor, it has quite serious and most negative political consequences [please see 'Chicago Mayoral Election, 1979: Jane Byrne defeats incumbent Michael Bilandic thanks to several feet of unremoved snow not all that long before the election']).

But... I mean... offering a United States Senate seat for sale??!!

That's just plain off the freakin' wall!!!

'The Green Papers', of course, is not a website usually utilized for the discussion of local machine politics and, thus, I will go no further on such a topic; however, this website is dedicated to the coverage of national politics (or State politics that could come to affect national politics-- certainly the recent arrest of Governor Blagojevich well fits this category) and it is my purpose, in this particular piece, to discuss how what has come out of Chicago this week might impact adversely upon the incoming Administration of President-elect Barack Obama (whose Senate seat, after all, was the one apparently being offered by the Illinois Governor- who legally has the power, under State law [itself authorized by the United States Constitution itself], to appoint someone to fill the vacancy pending an eventual Election- to the highest bidder).

First of all, before I take on the political difficulties that Governor Blagojevich has now caused Barack Obama, let me cite a decided- where not also key- advantage for the President-elect (though the original reason for this certainly had nothing at all to do with why it is just such an advantage):

One of the things that passed with little, if any notice, when it occurred not all that long after the 4 November Election was the fact that Barack Obama resigned his U.S. Senate seat appreciably earlier than what can be fairly construed as "more usual" for United States Senators elected to National Office. Dan Quayle and Al Gore, upon their respective elections as Vice President, resigned the Senate in early January (as did Lyndon Johnson when he was elected V.P.- though LBJ was something of a special case: just like Vice President Joe Biden in this most recent election, LBJ had just been re-elected to his Senate seat, so he dutifully appeared to be sworn in as a U.S. Senator and then promptly resigned, clearing the way for a gubernatorial appointment of a successor followed by a not-long thereafter Special Election, as was- and still is- required by Texas law); Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale- both elected Vice President- and John Fitzgerald Kennedy (the last sitting U.S. Senator before Obama to be elected to the Presidency) resigned their respective Senate seats in late December.

Obama, on the other hand, resigned his Senate seat back in mid-November!

Originally, I thought this politically brilliant and astute on Obama's part because it meant that the President-elect would not actually be in that seat (and, at least in theory, still eligible to debate and vote on the floor of the United States Senate) come the so-called "lame duck session" (which I prefer to refer to [in various and sundry collections of admittedly rather arcane historical data re: the Sessions of Congress on this very website] as a 'lame duck "component"' of the current session of Congress, if only because- at least technically- it is not, in fact, a whole new session) after the most recent Election: the meeting of Congress currently considering such things as the Automobile Industry "Bailout" even as I type these words. Why was it so brilliant and astute? Because it meant that the incoming President would not start out his new Administration "locked in" to something he might have supported on the floor of the Senate during the Transition: put another way, it allows the President-elect to keep his options, once he becomes President, as wide open as practicable.

But now it looks even more astute and even more brilliant (although, rather obviously, there is really no way Barack Obama could have at all foreseen this) because it means that the Illinois U.S. Senate seat scandal is Breaking News now, in early mid-December of the Transition. I mean-- can you imagine had the President-elect waited until just after Christmas to resign his Senate seat? Blagojevich would not have been soliciting "bids" for the seat until after New Year's and probably would have been arrested on or about-- oh-- say, 20 January!

As my Dad, a long-suffering Boston Red Sox fan (well-- at least until "the Sawx" won 2 World Championships over a four-season period recently), used to always say to me whenever the boys from Fenway would blow a lead and lose yet another one to those wearing pinstripes during a game in, say, early May at Yankee Stadium: "Better now than during the Pennant Race come September!" ;-)

In other words: if this had to happen, it's better- for the incoming Obama/Biden Administration- that it actually happened this early.

Now, on to the difficulties this political headache causes for Mr. Obama nonetheless:

First and foremost, of course, is- to once again apply a, frankly, overused phrase from the 'Watergate era' of the 1970s- "what did the President-elect know and when did he know it?". The transcripts released by U.S. Attorney Fitzgerald seem to clearly indicate that Governor Blagojevich was- to put it most mildly- frustrated by Obama (whether, by "Obama", we here mean the President-elect himself or someone either on his Transition staff or close to it claiming to speak for him: this is yet to be discerned); it appears that it was common knowledge to the Governor and his Staff that Obama had a certain person (unstated) in mind for appointment as his replacement but that it was also well established that Obama would have nothing at all to do with any of the shenanigans Blagojevich himself was coming up with in so appointing someone to fill the vacancy. The relevant question is: did the Governor know all this from Obama directly? or was it, rather, from some intermediary? And, if the latter, who was this person and just how high up on the Transition "depth chart" might he or she be? In any event, assuming that Obama did not (as he himself has already so often claimed) speak to the Governor directly, Obama can't be at all so dern pleased!

Beyond this (and here assuming no wrongdoing on the President-elect's part [although, or so I would think, if any member of his Transition staff had anything directly to do with Governor Blagojevich's being able to speak so knowledgably about Obama's attitude toward how the Governor would go about filling the vacancy-- well-- put bluntly: heads will just have to roll where they must: if Barack Obama wants to truly institute "Change we can believe in", he can only make it so believable if those who might have engaged in such contacts with Blagojevich are publicly punished, even if that means letting someone go whom the President-elect might not really want to have to fire]), there is the overall distraction to the Obama/Biden Administration's Transition itself.

Clearly, President-elect Obama wanted to- at his news conference today announcing former Senator Tom Daschle as his nominee to be Health and Human Services Secretary- emphasize the relationship between solving what he calls the Health Care Crisis and successfully dealing with the overall Economic Crisis the United States of America- and, indeed, the entire Developed World- now finds itself in... that's not what those in the media attending this news conference mostly wanted to ask him about, however!

Thereby, 'No Drama' Obama now finds himself well starring in a drama re: which- or so it, at least so far, appears- he wasn't even handed a script ahead of time by the very instigator of this very drama, the Governor of Illinois himself. And the negative effects of this very drama spread ever wider, well beyond the borders of the Land of Lincoln itself:

In and of itself, there is absolutely nothing wrong with an outgoing office-holder whose position is being filled by appointment, rather than election, to take a rather keen interest in who might replace him or her (you don't think Hillary Rodham Clinton is the least bit interested in who might actually fill her Senate seat should she be confirmed as Secretary of State? If you honestly don't think so, then I happen to have the deed- in Mrs. Clinton's own home State to boot- to a bridge connecting two New York City Boroughs I'd love to sell you! [;-)]) or even make some suggestions- although it might appear rather unseemly to do so directly, I suppose- as to who the person actually ought to be: happens in the Private Sector all the time!

But what Governor Blagojevich is alleged to have done as regards the seat vacated by Barack Obama now calls into at least some question all United States Senate seats potentially up for appointment by State Governors in order to fill vacancies. What about the evident lobbying of New York Governor David Patterson- by the Kennedy family- on behalf of Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, daughter of the assassinated JFK, to be appointed to Senator Clinton's seat (which she hasn't even resigned yet, pending her confirmation- by her fellow Senators- to head the State Department)? What about outgoing Delaware Governor Ruth Ann Minner having announced that Vice President-elect Joe Biden's seat will be, when the time comes, filled by a long-time aide to Biden (a so-called "seat-warmer" until the Vice President-elect's son, State Attorney General Beau Biden, can run for the seat in a Special Election in 2010 [a-la Ben Smith being the appointed replacement for JFK until Ted Kennedy had attained the constitutionally required age of 30 to be a U.S. Senator and could first run for the seat in a Special Election])?

I leave it to the reader of this Commentary as to whether or not any of what I have mentioned in the preceding paragraph is right, wrong, politics as usual, unethical, perfectly acceptable or downright immoral: for the People of the respective States in question will eventually fill the seats in question by Election (whether Special or regularly scheduled General) in any event and it is, as ever, they who will ultimately decide if those who are appointed to these U.S. Senate vacancies- or their evident intended successors who might run in the ensuing Election instead of they- are in the least bit tainted by any of the aforementioned. But it certainly can't be an altogether joyful moment to accept appointment by a Governor to fill a vacancy to a United States Senate seat from any State for the foreseeable future, thanks solely to Rod Blagojevich and his own self-evident Delusions of Grandeur!

In short: if only for the time being, all persons appointed to the United States Senate will have to, somehow, thereafter wash away a (however undeserved) stain and this is the most wide-ranging damage that Governor Blagojevich has caused the Nation as a whole and the United States Senate, as an institution, in particular and, for all of this, Blagojevich (who once served in the Congress of the United States, albeit in the other Chamber) should, above all, be roundly condemned!

With that, I leave it to the workings of the Federal Justice system to apply any other punishment(s) which might prove to be appropriate.

Modified .