Political Mess in Illinois

December 17, 2008

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

FEW SAINTS IN POLITICS

NOT EVEN LINCOLN

When the Governor of Illinois was arrested recently and charged with selling political favors to the highest bidder, the federal prosecutor in the case was incredulous. He stated that Abraham Lincoln” would rollover in his grave” if he were to know all the shenanigans going on Illinois.  Not so say a number of historians who have written about Lincoln.  Maybe the Civil War President would not have been as blatant as the current Illinois Governor.  But selling political favors for campaign contributions or other personal benefits has been a way of life in Illinois, and other states includingLouisiana, for centuries.

I’ve never fully understood the fascination withLincoln.  More than 5000 books have been written about the 25th president, more surely than about any other figure in American history. Lincoln was the guy who micromanaged a war that all told took the lives of almost 1,000,000 Americans.  On one day alone, September 17, 1862, more American soldiers were killed in the Battle of Antietam than in all other wars fought by theUnited States in the 19th century together.  How did Lincoln, this supposedly great compromiser, allow such devastation to take place?  Was ripping apart our country worth such a price?

 When it came to patronage and personal gain, Lincoln was certainly no slouch. Pulitzer prize-winning Lincoln biographer David Daniel paints a picture of Lincoln fully immersed in the political world of “pay to play” and patronage tied to large political contributions.  Rather than “rolling over in his grave,”Lincoln would have been more likely “rolling his eyes” over the naivety of federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who brought the charges against Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. 

Thomas DiLorenzo, in his new book, “Lincoln Unmasked,” paints a portrait of Lincoln as the master string puller inIllinois at the time he was elected president.  One of his first acts was to call Congress into a special session in June of 1861 to begin work on the Pacific Railroad Bill, which would eventually result in one of the greatest spectacles of graft and corruption in American history (the Credit Mobilier scandal).  Lincoln benefited personally from this legislation which gave him, as president, the right to choose the eastern starting point of the government-subsidized transcontinental railroad.  He chose Council Bluffs, Iowa, where he had recently purchased a large tract of land that is known to this day as “Lincoln’s Hill.”

The current Illinois deal maker-in-chief is certainly up to his ears in big time problems.  He is accused by Fitzgerald of carrying on “a political corruption crime spree” that includes an attempt to sell off the US Senate seat recently vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.  Fitzgerald has stirred the pot even more by releasing salacious tape recordings of the Governor talking about “what’s in it for him” to make anyone the new US Senator.  But is merely profane talk, with no acceptance of any deal by a third party, actually a crime? 

When someone says: “I’m so mad I might shoot that guy!”   Is a crime being committed?  When are words merely political batter as compared to crossing the line and committing a crime?  The law says it takes two to tango, and although Blagojevich’s ramblings are crass and unacceptable to the vast majority of his constituents, do his words constitute an illegal act?

It looks like the prosecutor in this case might have jumped the gun.  Fitzgerald apparently did not want any appointment to be made by the current governor, did not take the case to a grand jury, and brought the criminal charges himself.  If the Governor was caught on tape making a deal with a deal taker who joined in a “tit for tat,” a much stronger case would have been made.

And were does the Governor get a fair trial?  Certainly not in Illinois. The case has been front page and TV headline news daily.  Fitzgerald has made a number of inflammatory statements about the Governor’s activities that will no doubt be the subject of legal challenges by the defense. His lawyers will even argue that he really can’t get a fair trial any where in this country.

Was the political grandstanding by Fitzgerald so inflammatory that he has tainted any chance that the Governor can get a fair trial?  The charges against Blagojevich were brought in the US District Court inNorthern Illinois. They have a local court rule that states a “lawyer shall not make an extrajudicial statement the lawyer knows or reasonably should know is likely to be disseminated by the public media and, if so disseminated, would pose a serious and  imminent threat in the fairness of an adjudicative hearing.”  The rules specifically prohibit comments on “the character or reputation of the accused, or any opinion as to the accused guilt or innocence, as to the merits of the case, or as to the evidence in the case.”

So when Fitzgerald holds a press conference to tell the world that “the breadth of corruption laid out in these charges is staggering” interspersed with phrases like “”taken us to a truly new low” and there’s a “for sale sign” in dealing with the Governor, he may have gone too far and given Blagojevich’s lawyers compelling issues to work with in his defense.

He was called by the largest newspaper in llinois “the craftiest and most dishonest politician that ever disgraced any American political office.”  No, they were not referring to Gov. Blagojevich.  It was Abe Lincoln who was the brunt of this burning commentary by the Illinois Register back in the 1850s.   This whole current sordid mess has a long way to play out.  But be assured that Lincoln is certainly not “rolling over in his grave.”  Maybe chuckling a bit.

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            Make Lincoln roll over?  This would make Nixon roll over.”                             

-Gotcha, a post on the NBCChicago.com forum

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s weekly column appears in a number of newspapers and websites throughout the State ofLouisiana.  You can read Jim’s Blog, and take his weekly poll, plus read his columns going back to the fall of 2002 by going to his own website at http://www.jimbrownla.com.

Jim also has a new book out on his views ofLouisiana.  You can read about it and order it by going to www.jimbrownla.com. . Jim’s radio show on WRNO (995 fm) fromNew Orleans can be heard each Sunday, from 11:00 am until 1:00 pm.  


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