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Benjamin R. Barber Headshot

Brainless Bravado vs. Calculated Fraud

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The media has been waiting breathlessly for the moment when it can pierce the bubble of sanctimony that has enveloped President Elect Obama - a bubble created not by him but by the very media now eager to puncture it. And what better occasion than a lug-headed governor's oblivious grandstanding about being compensated for dealing Obama's Senate seat to sundry hungry politicians.

Endless opportunities finally to get down and dirty by excoriating traditional Illinois political corruption (about which not a word during the campaign!), give equal opportunity treatment to Democrats for corruption charges that only recently were reserved for Republicans, and - best of all! - taint Obama himself through innuendos about guilt by association by association by association. (Maybe an aide to an aide of Obama listened passively to an aide to an aide of Blagojevich making stealth overtures about what it would take for someone Obama favors to get the seat?)

But holiday fun aside -- and what better season than Christmas to expose raw venality in one blatant case even though it is to be found everywhere (but more subtly) in politics and finance throughout the year?! - the truth is that the Illinois Governor looks more dumb than corrupt. Which is probably why he keeps going back to work, trying to figure out what all the fuss is about.

Because all he was doing is political horse trading of a kind that is nearly universal in American politics: looking out for number one while taking care of constituents. "Political horse-trading" is the term of art, you know, a new fire house for District 5 because it made the difference in putting me over the top on Election Day. Or a job for loyalist Tim's wife, because Tim was a major contributor last year.

Trouble is big-mouth Blagojevich couldn't stop yapping about it on phones he had to know were tapped (he was the subject of an ongoing investigation).

Even U.S. Attorney Fitzgerald admitted he is not "trying to criminalize people making political horse trades on policies or that sort of thing." In other word horse-trading is what politicians do (it's called Senatorial courtesy or earmarks when Senators have their way in such matters) -- only quietly please, quietly.

We've just survived (or perhaps not) nearly three decades of narcissism, greed and self-interest posing as the public good. That's what got us into the sub-prime and credit crises. It's been business as usual for Wall Street, where just yesterday a former chairman of the stock exchange was arrested for massive, ongoing fraud.

None of this is to defend Governor Blagojevich, although even blowhards are innocent until proven guilty. But it is to say to the rapacious media, climb off your high horse and stop pretending you're shocked, shocked! Blagojevich is just doing publicly what the free market system has being doing privately for thirty years. If he goes to jail, while Wall Street speculators who bankrupted their firms and car company executives who destroyed what was once the world's most successful industry walk away with their taxpayer-funded million dollar bonuses, then justice will not have been done.

If, when it comes to greed, brainless bravado by a foolish politician deserves jail time, then calculated fraud by financial predators ought to be a capital crime.