In the wake of Rod Blagojevich's arrest, the hardest thing for many people to believe isn't the depths of depravity he has been accused of sinking to, but that he did so with the full knowledge that he was under federal investigation. A common response to the news--at least for those new to the ways of Blago--goes something like this: "What is this guy, nuts?" Tribune columnist John Kass notes that TV pundits have used words like "sociopath" and "straitjacket" in connection with the guber-notorious Blagojevich. And in the end, his nuttiness may be his best defense.
Insanity is no easy defense, but Blagojevich does not have a lot of options here. There's no lack of clarity in the recording or the context of his comments. Good luck trying to get the charges thrown out on a technicality--Patrick Fitzgerald is as airtight as they come. And who would think for a minute that selling a Senate seat and threatening a newspaper with political retribution aren't crimes? You'd have to have a screw loose to think that. Exactly.
Informed on Monday that his conversations had been wiretapped, instead of hunkering down and trying to remember what he'd said that he might regret, Blagojevich went to the scene of the crime--Tribune Tower--and said there was "nothing but sunshine" hanging over his head. With no apparent irony, he suggested the Tribune Company's impending bankruptcy was due to the editorial writers who, the tapes would soon tell us, he had tried to get fired by threatening to obstruct the sale of Wrigley Field. When Fitzgerald's office called Blagojevich to say they were arresting him, his response was "Is this a joke?" On what planet do you confuse felony charges with a light-hearted prank? If this isn't dementia, it's another dimension. Call it the Blago-sphere.
Confusing fact and fiction is not a new phenomenon for G-Rod. In February 2006 he was interviewed by The Daily Show correspondent Jason Jones, who pretended to stumble over his last name and resorted to calling him "Governor Smith," prompting Blagojevich to ask someone off-camera, "Is he teasing me or is that legit?" Later he insisted that he didn't know it was a comedy show, although others say he would have been asked to sign a release in advance.
In March 2007, when the Illinois Legislature voted against the Governor's business-tax proposal 107-to-zero (with seven "present" votes), Blagojevich's response was, "Today, I think, was basically an up ... I feel good about it." The Legislature has also voted unanimously against him--or close to it--on death-penalty reform, budget proposals and, recently, changes to an ethics-reform law. But in the Blago-sphere, it's the Tribune editorial board that is out of touch with mainstream thinking.
It wouldn't be hard to find witnesses to testify to Blago's insanity. When he reportedly threatened legal action against legislators for holding a budget meeting four hours earlier than scheduled, Rep. Joe Lyons said "We have a madman. The man is insane." When a conflict over Chicago Transit Authority funding prompted Mayor Richard M. Daley to call him "cuckoo," Blago replied "I don't think I'm a cuckoo." Of course he doesn't. Lunatics don't know they're lunatics.
Unfortunately, simply being goofy is not sufficient as a legal insanity defense. To make this gambit work, his lawyer would have to show that Blagojevich truly can not distinguish between right and wrong. This is where his brazenness pays off. If extorting money from a children's hospital doesn't make a little cartoon angel appear on your shoulder, you're not likely to question the ethics of auctioning off the President-elect's parting gift. On the tape, Blago reportedly compares his Senate appointment decision to a sports free-agency negotiation, playing different bidders against each other to get a better deal--nothing wrong with that, right?
So, Rod, free legal advice and worth every penny: go with the Blago-sphere defense. Keep on acting like you reside in an entirely different world, one where there is nothing but sunshine and you might be President in 2016 and the very idea that you might have acted unlawfully can only be that cut-up Fitzy pulling your leg. It might not work, but for sure nothing else will, so you might as well give it a try. Frankly, you'd be crazy not to.