Magazine article The American Conservative

Bailout Blago

Magazine article The American Conservative

Bailout Blago

Article excerpt

The governor was too honest for Washington.

THE STONING of Rod Blagojevich recalls Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," a sinister short story about the inhabitants of an otherwise placid village where, periodically, someone's name is chosen out of a hat for a public stoning. Like much of Jackson's idiosyncratic fiction, a dark river of fear runs beneath the formal narrative - in this case fear of randomness, of sudden death at the hands of fate. It was, perhaps, Blagojevich's fate to go down in history as a symbol of political corruption, Chicago's Boss Tweed and the most infamous of mobster-politicians. Yet one can't help but think it could have happened to anyone - to any member of the political class, that is.

This scandal is noteworthy because of the honesty and purity of its protagonist, the Illinois governor who has become a leper in the political universe because he didn't deign to dress up his avarice and power-lust in the language of "public service" and altruism. With his fishwife of a first lady swearing in the background, the governor laid it all on the table, demanding cash for political favors, trying to sell Barack Obama's Senate seat to the highest bidder, and seeking to have members of the Chicago Tribune's editorial board fired as the price for state aid to the beleaguered Tribune Company. He was, in short, doing what all politicians do: dispensing favors to his supporters and punishing his enemies by withholding the same. "Why," asked H.L. Mencken, "should democracy rise against bribery? It is itself a form of wholesale bribery."

While the sale of Obama's Senate seat has garnered the lion's share of attention, the aspect of this case that gave rise to the most unladylike language from fllinois's first lady - shocking our pious pundits and media bloodhounds - was the attempted firing of those troublesome Tribune editorial writers who had been crusading to get the governor impeached. In pitching a deal to the business side of the Tribune Company, Blagojevich rightly pointed out to the chief financial officer that, in granting state aid to bail them out, he would be doing precisely what the newspaper's editorial writers had cited as grounds for his impeachment: going around the state legislature and directly handing out cash.

The source of this largesse was to be the Illinois Finance Authority, whose website describes it as "a self-financed state authority principally engaged in issuing taxable and tax-exempt bonds, making loans, and investing capital for businesses, non-profit corporations, agriculture and local government units statewide." With "about $3 billion in project financing" to hand out each year, it has approved 780 projects to the tune of $11 billion to "stimulate the economy" - and, no doubt, to stimulate the bank accounts of the governor's friends. This is, in short, a local version of what President Obama is proposing as his first act: a $2 trillion "stimulus package."

Everybody knows that this world-historic chunk of moolah is going to be handed out to the president's friends and that politics - not public interest - is going to be the rule of thumb in deciding on whom to lavish the loot. Paul Krugman worries that so much money will not find enough projects to fund, but he needn't worry: the Blagojeviches of this world will find endless uses for it.

This is why the Obama-ites are desperate to put as much distance as possible between themselves and Blagojevich. Their entire political program is about doling out rewards to interest groups that supported them during the campaign: union power, money power, and corporate media power that did so much to make Obama-mania politically chic. …

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