Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has provoked both umbrage and bemusement during his recent media escapade by wantonly likening himself to, among others, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and fictional characters played by Jimmy Stewart and Gary Cooper. While entertaining, his tawdry behavior (and English poetry recitations) has all but squandered what little credibility was left as of his arrest on December 9, 2008. And following in the dubiously illustrious footsteps of Sarah Palin this past fall, he has essentially transformed into a caricature of himself, thus furnishing comedians and commentators with infinite fodder for ridicule. One wonders if this is a new protocol--or perhaps a defense mechanism--for political figures who find themselves in over their heads.
Nevertheless, Blagojevich is an adept politician in some capacities (as indeed is Sarah Palin). This was made abundantly clear during the appointment and eventual swearing-in of Senator Roland Burris this month, wherein an assailed Blagojevich went head-to-head with the top lawmakers of the land and came out on top. It's a shame the governor's eccentricity and braggadocio have now caught up with him. Comparing oneself to King, Mandela, and Gandhi is always a bold move, and in Blagojevich's case, it happens to be obnoxiously cynical and unbefitting. But that's not to say there aren't other historical figures of note with whom he might draw a more appropriate comparison.
My suggestion, if I for some reason found myself in a position to counsel the Illinois governor (and the chance of this is highly unlikely considering he doesn't even listen to his own lawyers), would be to invoke Julius Caesar. King, Mandela, Gandhi...not so much. The rhetorical legerdemain required to pull off such an absurd comparison is, I daresay, too much for even the most convincing of boastful windbags.
But Caesar, now that's something Blago could potentially spin; he need only substitute Shakespeare for Kipling and retain his penchant for the dramatic, which would come with the territory anyway. The narrative, or at least his version of it, fits perfectly. He rose up in defiance of his adversaries and emerged victorious, only to later be the victim of a Senatorial conspiracy at home. He enjoyed popularly with the citizenry, only to later lose favor for abuses of power. In his final stand, he decries the legislature while still insisting on his loyalty to the people who no longer hold him in any meaningful esteem. And tragically, his cries go unheeded.
Despite Harry Reid and his fellow optimates' best efforts a few weeks ago, there was simply no way to block Burris--and all that he symbolizes for Blagojevich's political sovereignty. But now it is Blagojevich who, as he readily admits, is completely powerless. We are, as it were, in the midst of the Ides of March, and the tragic hero will soon be vanquished to the dustbin of political history. If only he had invoked Caesar from the start, instead of civil rights heroes whose legacies are so sacred to so many, perhaps he could go down more gracefully (or at least less offensively). Perhaps then some might even have proclaimed, "This was the noblest Roman of them all". But alas, surely that is impossible now.