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Rod Blagojevich committed his greatest sin when he broke the cardinal rule of Chicago politics: don't make no waves, don't back no losers. He could have followed George Ryan's lead by stepping aside, accepting cut-rate legal counsel from a well-connected, high-powered firm, and putting himself in position for political forgiveness and maybe even a high-paying job when he's out of the can. Instead, he's gleefully made lots of waves. As he put it himself: "I've enjoyed the limelight I've had over the last couple of weeks."
To follow it up, he not only backed but appointed a loser--and, since he invoked the old politics of race at a time when the first supposedly postracial president is trying to launch a massive agenda, he essentially forced other Democrats to do the same thing.
Senate leaders no doubt want to look like they're above the lame, cynical, and--worst of all--tape-recorded schemes of Rod Blagojevich. But they were always most concerned about making sure the junior senator from Illinois remains a Democrat. As it's become clear that Roland Burris will do just about anything to be seated in the world's most exclusive club, they've had to scramble to get out of the vows they made. It might actually be worse to let the drama play out, full of legal disputes and charges of "plantation politics," than to back down. If they let Burris in now, Illinois voters will have two years to forget that their state has literally become a joke, and Democrats will still be the favorites to keep the Senate seat in 2010, since Republicans haven't run a credible statewide campaign in years. From a Washington Post update a little while ago:
"Senate Democrats, once sharply opposed to allowing Burris to be seated because he was appointed by Blagojevich (D), are considering allowing him to serve as a way to end a confrontation that could drag on for weeks and distract from what they hope will be an end to a decade of gridlock on Capitol Hill. One idea being considered, Democratic officials said yesterday, is allowing Burris to be seated if he agrees not to run for election in 2010, allowing the party to recruit another candidate to defend the seat (Burris has lost multiple statewide races in Illinois)."
Blago, meanwhile, may have outmaneuvered everyone with the Burris appointment, and that's a fine example of why he's toast. You've got to have some friends in this business--especially if you think you're going to profit from it.