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“All politicians are a little pathological,” a politician who isn’t visibly pathological said to me this afternoon, explaining that you don’t get into the business if you don’t have a strong sense that you’re on the right side most of the time. “But this guy…”
This guy, of course, would be our governor, who once again managed to bring the circus back to town by deciding, despite seeming promises to the contrary, to appoint a U.S. Senator.
The outraged responses came immediately, before many people had even heard the news that prompted them. Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn decried the action. Secretary of State Jesse White said he wouldn’t sign the paperwork to make the appointment official. A Republican member of the House impeachment panel said he would ask appointee Roland Burris not to go along. U.S. Senate Democrats said they would try to block Burris from being seated. Barack Obama even refrained from refraining to comment on the mess, saying he agreed that his old Senate slot shouldn’t be filled by Blagojevich.
The governor has an obvious gift for helping other politicians look decisive, thoughtful, and bright, even some of those who are currently sitting in jail. But I’m afraid I'm with those who think he won this round of politics.
“I think it was a very smart decision on the part of Rod Blagojevich—it was ingenious,” political consultant Delmarie Cobb said in an interview this afternoon. “Who better than Roland could rise above what’s going on? His integrity is unassailable.... If there’s anybody you could put in who doesn’t draw lightning, it’s him. I think Roland can ride it out.”
To be sure, Burris has been involved with his own business and political dealings, and Cobb, who was one of his top advisers during his 1998 and 2002 runs for governor, clearly remains a fan. But after talking with several other elected officials, I think she’s right: Burris may just make it into the U.S. Senate.
It’s not clear that anyone has the legal means to stop the appointment, despite vows to the contrary. It’s even less clear that they’re going to have the political will. At Blagojevich’s press conference this afternoon, Congressman Bobby Rush essentially dared critics to undo what’s been done. Such a move, he suggested, would be an announcement that an experienced, well-liked statesman of Illinois politics—and an African American one, replacing the Senate’s only other African-American—is somehow not worthy of the job.
Critics of the appointment, including Obama, have gone out of their way to say they’re not talking about Burris personally. But I’m not sure that’s going to matter. Having made his pick, Blagojevich can sneak away to meetings with his lawyers while everybody else debates whether or not the Senate seat should go to Burris. Over the next few days I predict we'll see a whole lot more Burris supporters—many bringing up the matter of black representation in the Senate—and they'll ask aloud who’s a better choice than him. Opponents will have to say, “Somebody who is either elected in a special election that hasn’t been called or who would get picked down the road by the next governor, if there is one … or maybe somebody else.”
It’s not quite as effective an answer.