Wednesday, November 14 , 2018, 8:15 am | Fair 45º

 
 
 

Harris Sherline: Blago The Bizzare

Was the Illinois scandal's media circus a result of our interest? Or theirs?

We were titillated for weeks by the antics of Rod “Blago” Blagojevich, the now former Illinois governor. Nonstop media coverage followed his every move: jogging, holding news conferences, making TV appearances, all in an effort to escape the inexorable process of impeachment and avoid prosecution for his reported attempt to extort money and favors for appointing a replacement to fill President Obama’s seat in the Senate.

Harris Sherline
Harris Sherline
Although Blago managed to outmaneuver his political opposition by successfully appointing former state Attorney General Roland Burris to the Senate, his outlandish behavior accomplished little else beyond making him the butt of jokes and ridicule.

Is the public really interested in this clown or was the intense media coverage due more to the herd mentality of the news outlets, reporting stories they think are good for their ratings? Switching channels doesn’t help, because the coverage is generally universal, with around-the-clock newscasts. How many people endured the coverage about Blago only because it was necessary to get the news that actually interested them? My guess is most viewers.

On the day his impeachment trial began in the Illinois Senate, Blago appeared on Good Morning America, The View, Rev. Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and a host of other heroic figures, including fictional movie characters, rationalizing and justifying his behavior at every turn. The New York Times reported, “... throughout the day, Mr. Blagojevich spoke to anyone who would listen of the unfairness of the removal he was facing, one he considered absurdly outside the boundaries of the nation’s laws and mores.”

But, Blago persisted, seemingly without shame or embarrassment. Is he really so thick that he can not see how he looks to others? Apparently he is. But, he’s not the only one. The media are routinely besieged by people who are seeking their 15 minutes of fame, which an eager public is all too often willing to watch. The excesses of celebrity have overrun our culture. No act of pandering seems to be outside the bounds of propriety any longer. There is an unending stream of would-be celebrities, all clamoring and competing for attention.

The lesson of Blago is about more than celebrity, however. His antics have also been shining the bright light of disclosure on the dysfunction of the nation’s political class and our political process. For years, the public has been subjected to a never-ending parade of politicians, Republican and Democrat alike, who have questionable ethics or are just plain dishonest. They take advantage of their positions in government to feather their personal nests with favors, money, influence and perks that far exceed anything their constituents can ever hope to have, even in their wildest dreams.

One positive aspect of Blago’s nonsensical behavior is the exposure he has given to unethical and dishonest politicians in general. Not all politicians fit these criteria, of course, but the potential for abuse of power is ever present, including perennially trying to keep the public from knowing what they are doing.

Blago’s compulsive drive for the spotlight was so damaging to his legal defense that his attorney took the unusual step of withdrawing from representing him.

The former governor is gone from the daily news, but rest assured, he will be back to entertain us from time to time, until he is ultimately indicted and probably tried on the charge of attempting to sell a Senate seat.

On a 59-0 vote, the Illinois Senate found this feckless politician guilty of abuse of power, but, sadly, there will continue to be many more like him in the future. Lt. Gove. Patrick Quinn was immediately confirmed to replace Blagojevich as governor, and in a separate vote of the state Senate, Blago was barred from ever again holding public office in Illinois.

We haven’t heard the last of this character, though. In the meantime, we can all move on to the next breach of ethics or abuse of power that captures the headlines and fills our TV screens.

Blago is indeed bizarre, but so are American politics in general.

Harris R. Sherline is a retired CPA and former chairman and CEO of Santa Ynez Valley Hospital who has lived in Santa Barbara County for more than 30 years. He stays active writing opinion columns and his own blog, Opinionfest.com.

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