Believe it or not, I think there's more to be said about the shenanigans of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. First of all, let's talk about the reaction of other political officials to Blagojevich's alleged desire to "sell" the Senate seat. They reminded me of Claude Raines in Casablanca. As his Captain Renault was shutting down Rick's café, he cried out, "I'm shocked, shocked to find out that gambling is going on here." And then a croupier handed Renault the winnings that he made from gambling earlier. Of course, he wasn't really shocked. And I wonder just how shocked all of those Democrats and Republicans really were about Blagojevich when they expressed their outrage.
We regular citizens should have been shocked just as we are every time corruption rears its ugly head. But I think politicians are so used to being surrounded by it that they take it all in stride. Oh sure, maybe they were shocked by the boldness of Blagojevich. They are used to things being more subtle. People don't usually just come out and say they want a bribe. And I think it was this lack of subtlety rather than the idea of trading a Senate seat for favors that threw them for a loop.
But is the way Senate seats are usually given to people by governors really any more moral?
When a governor chooses someone to replace a Senator, nobody really expects him or her to pick the most qualified person for the job. If governors always did this, then very often Democrats would choose Republicans and vice versa. And how often does that happen? So, this system of governors choosing someone has always been flawed.
"Not as flawed as actually selling it for money," you say? Hold on a second. From the moment that Caroline Kennedy's name was mentioned as a possible replacement for Hillary Clinton, what one quality did all of the experts mention? Her experience at riding a pony? Her, uh, great oratory skill? No, it was her fund-raising ability. They all talked about how she would be able to raise millions and millions of dollars. That would include millions of dollars for the 2010 re-election campaign of Governor Paterson -- the same man who has the ability to appoint her.
Yet I didn't hear one of the news experts or fellow politicians say that there was anything wrong with that. Nobody said they were "shocked." It was shocking that Blagojevich wanted six-figure jobs for him and his wife in exchange for a Senate seat, but it would be okay with everyone if Paterson appointed someone who would, in effect, give him millions of dollars.
Don't get me wrong. I've got nothing against Caroline Kennedy. I'm from the generation that, because of who she is and what she has gone through, would love to see her in the Senate. If she wants to be President, that would probably be okay with me, too. I just think it's weird that there is this double standard. What Blagojevich did is so shocking that Prosecutor Fitzgerald said it could make "Abraham Lincoln turn over in his grave." But the idea of Governor Paterson giving Caroline the Seat because of her zillion-dollar fund raising ability wouldn't even make Honest Abe blink?
There's yet another wrinkle in the Blagojevich thing. Immediately after Governor Blagojevich picked Roland Burris to be the new Senator, the self-righteous Senate said they couldn't seat him because he was "tainted" by Blago. However, soon after he was picked, the media reported that a possible compromise was being discussed. The Senators would let Burris be Senator for the rest of this term if he promised he wouldn't run for re-election in 2010. So he wasn't tainted enough to keep him from being Senator if it suited their political purposes. Some of the most respected members of the Senate were willing to make a deal involving a Senate seat. And nobody seemed outraged.
I'm shocked, shocked that such hypocrisy goes on in the Senate.
So what can be done to stop this kind of thing? Every state should stop allowing governors to appoint Senators and use a special election instead. That way, we would never have to worry if a governor were choosing a Senator for the wrong reasons. The right to make bad decisions like that should be left to us voters.
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Home Improvement" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his website at lloydgarver.com and his podcasts on iTunes.