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Why the Blagojevich Verdict Matters

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ROD BLAGOJEVICH GUILTY
AP

"This won't change anything," a friend Gchatted me as we separately waited for the Blagojevich verdict. "By Illinois standards, his biggest crime was being an idiot and getting caught."

The cynicism was a familiar refrain from my friend, a young man born with the optimism of a Union Army doctor nine hours into the Battle of Antietam. I shrugged it off. He's just like that (and was partially saying it just to get my goat).

But then the talking head on the TV station's web feed said the same thing. That same cynical phrase I teased my friend about was brought into the public debate by the loosely connected "expert" ABC 7 hired to help fill the dead air while Rod and Patti grabbed lunch at the Dirksen commissary.

This won't change anything.

No, the results of this particular trial will not clean up Illinois or end all corruption. Illinois' culture of corruption will outlast this, just as it outlasted the convictions of former governors George Ryan, Dan Walker and Otto Kerner. There are still patronage hires, funny business with contracts and the strong-arming of political foes.

I've always been struck by the mysterious shoe boxes full of cash former Secretary of State Paul Powell left after his death. The corruption was so rampant, the crooks didn't have time to store the booty properly.

The Blagojevich verdict is not going to stop that. It's just not.

But the verdict's also not going to stop all war. It's not going to help me lose that last 10 pounds or create an electric car that can go from zero to 60 in 1.5 seconds. The results of the Blagojevich verdict will not give me X-ray vision and the power of flight, dang it.

Based on the comments of my friend, the "expert" and a few other people I've heard, it's as if the verdict would only have meaning if it meant an end to Chicago-style deep-dish corruption forever.

Do you remind the mother whose daughter's killer was convicted that murders happen every day? Do you shrug when a child molester is put away because there are still a lot of them out there?

Monday was a good day, even if there are still power plays, shady deals and more money shuffling through Springfield and Chicago each day than through a Vegas casino. A man who thought he was too powerful to be caught was caught. He thought the people who live in Illinois would put up with it because of that "culture of corruption" the cynical bank on.

Thanks to the efforts of people like U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, he realized how wrong he was. Yes, Fitzgerald's a transplant, but that's part of the story. "The Chicago Way" might be a cool movie quote, but Blago found out on Monday how much it means in the real world.

I'm not naïve. I know that right now, some very powerful and corrupt people are not so much shaking in their boots as shaking their heads and mumbling that Blago was an idiot for getting caught.

No, this one verdict isn't going to clean up Chicago or Springfield. Maybe we'll keep getting leaders who think they're too big to take down, to powerful to have their corruption opposed (I could name a dozen off-hand). And, yeah, a lot of them will get away with it.

But as for the others, they'll just have to fight it out with Blago for top bunk. We're getting pretty good at convicting governors.

And that's bleepin' golden.