This morning, CNN.com posted a commentary by Kent Redfield, director of the Sunshine Project and professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Illinois, titled "Illinois Voters Should Blame Themselves." He writes:
"Two years ago, most Illinois citizens suspected what they now know about Rod Blagojevich. But on Election Day, fewer than 37 percent of the eligible voters in Illinois went to the polls and a majority of them elected him to another four-year term. In order to fix Illinois politics, we need to start by taking a long look at ourselves in the mirror."
Last Wednesday, I wrote a piece for the Huffington Post urging people not to judge Chicago or Illinois by its corrupt government officials, a sentiment many of my peers have echoed since the governor's arrest last Tuesday. So I'm surprised to see a fellow resident of the Land of Lincoln blaming his electorate for the governor's actions.
Specifically referring to the 2006 election, in which incumbent Governor Rod Blagojevich defeated Republican challenger Judy Baar Topinka, 1.7 million people voted for Blagojevich, and 1.4 million voted for Topinka. If Redfield's beef is with the 1.7 million who voted to keep Blagojevich in office, perhaps he can recall that many Democrats in our state were pleased by many of the governor's initiatives, such as his "All Kids" bill, signed into law in 2005, which granted all Illinois children access to affordable, comprehensive health care. Or his executive order that prevented pharmacists from refusing to fill prescriptions for birth control or Plan B. Or his firm support of tough gun control laws. Or his signing then State Senator Barack Obama and late U.S. Senator Paul Simon's comprehensive death penalty reform bill into law. Governor Blagojevich shared many positions with staunch Democrats in Illinois.
If we're holding Illinois voters accountable for the crimes of which our governor has been accused, do we hold the United States voters accountable for the crimes of Richard Nixon? For the Iran-Contra Affair? For the current administration's efforts to out a C.I.A. agent for political gain? Do we fault the voters for the Bush administration's hasty invasion of Iraq or do we simply fault the voters who cast ballots for the 77 senators who approved the Iraq Resolution in 2002? The blame game is a slippery slope.
I do agree with Redfield on one point:
"Making corruption more difficult only takes you so far. People are more likely to obey the law if they believe it is wrong to break the law -- in addition to the chance they might get caught. We need to change the political culture in Illinois -- the attitudes and beliefs we share about the nature of politics. Too many Illinois citizens and politicians believe that politics is solely about power, winning and personal gain."
I agree that the political culture in Illinois--not to mention in Washington D.C. as well as many other states in this great nation--needs change. But I don't believe that change can be brought about without a sincere effort on the part of our elected officials. Voters can't be held accountable for the ease with which money and power tempts our government officials to commit crimes.
When voters elect a public servant to office, we entrust that individual with the governance of our daily lives. At a time when the economy is bottoming out, people are losing their jobs and homes, and we are all doing the best we can just to hang on, any public servant who is more concerned with the size of their campaign chest than the welfare of the people should excuse themselves from office and contemplate a more lucrative career--perhaps with a company like A.I.G., which has no problem spending taxpayer dollars on luxury and excess. And when the individual's moral compass is as faulty as our governor's appears to be, we must be able to trust that the proper authorities will intervene.
Governor Blagojevich is only one man at the center of this web of deceit, and others who paid-to-play or even entertained the idea are also guilty of violating the public trust. The only innocents left are we the people, who dared to have faith in those we elected to serve us.