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The Silence of the Congressman: Where's Bobby Rush?

03/23/2009 05:12 am 05:12:01 | Updated May 25, 2011

Not even the most inventive novelist could have dreamed up the press conference that erupted on December 30, 2008, three weeks to the day after Rod Blagojevich was arrested at his home for trying to sell Barack Obama's senate seat to the highest bidder, among other alleged crimes,

Bobby Rush, the Chicago Congressman, took the stage that day in a pre-arranged plan to calm the shock of Blagojevich, then still governor, making the surprise appointment of Roland Burris to Obama's Senate seat. Rush let loose with incendiary racial politics, but Senate leaders Harry Reid and Dick Durbin vowed not to seat Burris because he was appointed by the disgraced Blagojevich. Obama, then president-elect, called Burris "a fine man," but agreed that the senate could not seat a man named by Blagojevich whom, everyone knew, faced imminent impeachment.

Reporters literally gasped at the chutzpah of Blagojevich--caught on tape calling the senate appointment "fucking golden" and vowing not to "give it away"-- daring to anoint Burris. Burris's expression that day was one of pleading for help, his eyes darting this way and that searching for Rush in the crowded room. Burris found him and Rush rescued the bumbling, bewildered Burris.

Until that day, Rush would have gone down in history as a Black Panther turned party hack who, in the 2000 democratic primary, shellacked Barack Obama, then a state Senator desperate to get out of Springfield and get in to Washington. After that day, Rush would be remembered for propping up Burris by unloading at that press conference the worst kind of racial politics.

Rush warned reporters "not to hang or lynch the appointee as you try to castigate the appointer." The U.S. Senate, he charged, was "the last bastion of plantation politics." "There are no African-Americans in the Senate," Rush said, "and I don't think that anyone, any U.S. senator who is sitting right now would want to go on record to deny one African-American from being seated in the U.S. Senate."

The next day, on network television, Rush compared Harry Reid to prominent segregationists Bull Connor, Orval Faubus, and George Wallace. "It reminded me of the dogs being sicced on children in Birmingham, Alabama," Rush said later on television, when Burris's swearing in was delayed.

What have we heard from Bobby Rush lately as Burris amends his increasingly unbelievable denial of pay to play? On Wednesday Rush's spokesman said, "He has a responsibility to reserve judgment until everything is known." Well good luck with that, because Burris adds new details every day and everything will never be known. Rush later said on national radio, "I am concerned, but I have not had a chance to talk with him [Burris] and get his side of the story."

But Rush allowed that Burris might not have been completely candid. Rush seems to have recognized that going down in history for teaching Obama some humility is one thing, but going down in history for saving the appointment of a man who gives new meaning to the phrase "shameless liar," is another.

The AP reported on Thursday that a group of unnamed black ministers would call on Burris to resign. Will Rush, an ordained minister, be among them? Burris has taken sanctuary with the black clergy at pivotal points on his road to becoming the junior Senator from Illinois. Perhaps that game is up. No more sanctuary for a man who makes a mockery of the truth and, even worse in the game of politics, who is such an exceptionally inept, dopey liar.