Crazy But Crafty In Illinois

Washington Matters

Crazy But Crafty In Illinois

When Gov. Rod. Blagojevich held his news conference this afternoon, I looked closely at his hands. I figure he's stuck his thumb in so many eyes recently that he must've run out. No such luck. He seems bound and determined to cause as much trouble as possible before he is impeached, convicted, cops a plea or is otherwise yanked from office. And you have to have to grant him this -- he's a crafty sonuvagun.

If Blago has any chance of seeing his pick accepted -- and Senate Democrats have already said they won't seat his choice -- he found the perfect candidate in Roland Burris. He's a veteran political figure with no real ties to Blagojevich and a reputation for unblemished integrity; a former state attorney general, he's the first African- American elected to statewide office. And when he challenged Blago in the 2002 primary race for governor, Obama backed  him over Blagojevich.

But Blago has to know that the closest Burris or anyone else he picks will get to the Senate will be on a guided tour. So what is he up to?

At his news conference, he said it was his responsibility to name a senator because the legislature had not passed legislation approving a special election. A nice dig at the folks trying to impeach him. What we've learned about Blago so far reveals a guy who doesn't just hold grudges for forever but also gets genuine joy out of payback. So my personal guess is that he's trying to cause as much turmoil as possible in the party that no longer supports him -- and doing so in as ugly a way as possible. And it seems pretty clear to me he's playing the race card.

By turning to someone who his polar opposite on the slime scale and beloved in the Illinois black community, he appears to be all but daring the Senate or state Legislature to reject a man of such stature and even risk being branded as racially insensitive. I was wondering about this before Blago actually spoke but after Burris' name leaked out. After the news conference, I was convinced. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., a prominent Chicago politician and senior member of the House's Black Caucus, just happened to show up and was given a turn at the podium. (Call me a cynic, but I don't believe for a second this wasn't arranged beforehand.) And he made the strategy crystal clear:

Rush pointed out, fairly, that with Obama's resignation, the Senate had no African-American members and said he would cajole, challenge and even beg the senators to change their minds. Then he slammed the race card on the table for Blago: "I don't think any U.S. senator would want to go on record to deny one African-American to be seated in the U.S. Senate. I don't think they want to do that."

The Senate might be in a bit of a spot. Even so, it's hard to see them backing down. And it's even harder to imagine that their refusal to seat Burris would be seen by more than a handful of people as anything more than refusing to knuckle under to the maddest governor to come along since Earl Long was committed to an asylum by his wife and he used his gubernatorial powers to engineer his release.