Criminal trials are supposed to be about the facts and the law. The corruption trial of former Governor Rod Blagojevich will be about neither.
The facts have been clear for years. Reporters and the Governor's opponents (myself included) have been pointing out the shocking pattern of corrupt behavior for years. The US Attorney took the extreme position of allowing a sitting governor to be named Public Official A in a corruption scheme prior to the 2008 election in order to avoid being blamed for keeping voters in the dark.
Mr. Blagojevich will make three arguments to defend the indefensible. He will say that he was just using the same tools of politics as everyone else. He will point to the near unanimous support of the Democratic Party establishment in his 2008 re-election bid to argue that everyone was in this together and that he is being singled out unfairly. He will argue that powerful interest wanted him out because he was fighting for the little guy. All of this will just be a courtroom extension of his year-long public relations campaign aimed at jury nullification.
It won't work. The people of Illinois are sick of the corruption, sick of the failure of government to address our real concerns, and wary of the grandstanding. Besides, the arguments all fail. Let's take them one at a time.
Mr. Blagojevich was just using the same political tools as everyone else. Wrong. A governor has unique and powerful tools at his disposal. These exist so our state's top executive can get on with the business of running our government. The governor appointed the criminals Tony Rezko and Stuart Levine to oversee state pension funds and allowed them to create an elaborate shake down scheme that benefited his campaign fund. No one else could have done that. No one else did.
The Democratic Party supported him unanimously because we were all in this together. Wrong again. A quarter of a million Democrats voted with me in the primary. Even the Party establishment, who felt they had to support an incumbent Governor in the primary, did so unenthusiastically. As Lt. Governor, Pat Quinn campaigned for the incumbent, but he would often speak at length without ever mentioning the Mr. Blagojevich by name. Although late to act, in the end it was the Democrats who led the effort to Impeach and remove Mr. Blagojevich.
Powerful interests wanted him out because he was fighting for the little guy. Wrong a third time. Powerful interests filled his campaign coffers because they could pay the price. In fact, the Governor was in the habit of providing friendly lobbyists to those willing to pay. John Wyma, expected to be a key government witness against Mr. Blagojevich, became a wealthy lobbyist by selling influence and access to the Governor and, of course, by making sure his clients paid into the reelection fund.
To be acquitted Mr. Blagojevich must make us all co-conspirators and hope we are eager to walk away from the consequences. There he may have a point. The sell-out of the little guy went further than taking money from powerful interests. Giving away government resources to buy votes - whether in the name of "All Kids," as in the insurance expansion, or the free Metra passes for seniors - ends up bankrupting the state. Average Illinoisans were hurt rather than helped by this cynical use of power, but we have only ourselves to blame.
Politics is still politics in Illinois, and the culture of corruption is far from dead. If this trial is to mean something for the state rather than simply for the Blagojevich family, then the people of Illinois will have to look in the mirror and ask why we keep electing these guys.