According to legend, the Vikings were so greatly feared by the people of northern Europe during the Dark Ages that they used to pray “From the fury of the Norsemen, Lord, deliver us!”
Of late, I suspect that many Illinois residents like myself are making a similar petition to be delivered from the fury of another force nearly as frightening.
I am speaking of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, whose trial on 24 separate federal corruption charges ended on Aug. 17 with the jury finding him guilty of just one charge — lying to federal agents — and deadlocking on the other 23. Federal prosecutors will retry Blago on at least some of the unresolved charges, but in the meantime, he has once again resumed his nationwide media blitz, protesting his innocence to anyone who will listen and making a complete idiot of himself in the process.
Not only has His Hairness been making the rounds of the news and talk shows yet again, he’s also back to exploiting his questionable “celebrity” status. He appeared at a Comic Con convention in Chicago on Aug. 21 to sign autographs (at $50 a pop) and pose for pictures in a replica of the Batmobile from the 1960s TV version of “Batman.” Prior to his trial, we were treated to the spectacle of his being fired from “Celebrity Apprentice” and of his wife Patti devouring a tarantula in the jungles of Costa Rica on “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!” (I predict — you heard it here first — that a cameo appearance or guest host stint on “Saturday Night Live” is not far behind.)
He has even not ruled out a return to politics — even though the impeachment conviction which drove him from the governor’s office in January 2009 disqualifies him from holding any state or local office in Illinois. However, this does not prevent him from running in other states or for federal offices, including Congressman, Senator, or even (God forbid) POTUS.
But, it isn’t just humiliated Sucker State citizens who fear the wrath of a politically undead Blago. According to Chicago Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine reacted to news of the Blago verdict with two words: “We’re screwed.” A spokesman for Kaine denied this, but even if he didn’t use those exact words, the sentiment is probably accurate.
With an electoral tsunami of historic proportions already staring them in the face, the last thing Democrats need is a constant reminder of the corrupt character of Obama’s home state and city. Nor do Dems benefit in any way from Blago’s insistence that he should call Administration figures such as Rahm Emanuel and Valerie Jarrett to the stand in his defense, even though he never bothered to do so in his first trial. And they certainly do not benefit from repetition of Blago’s profanity-laced rants captured on federal surveillance tapes — most famously his description of Obama’s former Senate seat as a “(bleeping) golden” opportunity that he wasn’t going to “give up for nothing”.
Moreover, Blago’s constant assertions that he is merely being persecuted by an out of control federal government have gained him a measure of sympathy among some (though by no means all or even most) conservatives and libertarians, particularly those who still carry a grudge against federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald for his pursuit of Bush administration figure Lewis “Scooter” Libby. The Wall Street Journal went so far as to call for Fitzgerald to be removed from his U.S. Attorney’s post.
Personally, I would suggest that in lieu of a second trial, or going to prison on the lying to the feds charge, Blago should be offered an alternative sentence of at least one year in a monastery where he would have to shave his head and observe a strict vow of silence. But I digress.
In both the Old and New Testaments, and during much of the subsequent history of Christendom, the fury of foreign invaders — from the Assyrians and Babylonians to the Romans, the Huns, the Vikings, the Saracens, and so on — was often seen as an instrument of divine punishment for sin. I would like to suggest that corrupt, incompetent, and sociopathic leaders like Blago (and other figures I am sure readers can think of) are also, in a way, instruments of divine chastisement. Not in the sense of being inflicted from without by a vengeful deity, but because bad leadership is what citizens of a city, state, or nation get when they fail to choose their leaders for the right reasons and with the right values in mind.
If citizens look only for candidates who tell them what they want to hear, and promise all sorts of benefits with no explanation of how they will be paid for; if they forget or ignore the importance of defending the right to life, freedom of conscience, and the role of the family as the basic unit of society; if they shrug off blatant corruption and dishonesty as the price to be paid for “getting things done”; or if they don’t bother voting at all because it’s easier to blindly assume that all politicians/candidates are equally crooked than to go to the trouble of making informed judgments about them — chances are that eventually, they will end up with leaders who make life more difficult, and perhaps even intolerable, for them. That, in my opinion, is just as much “chastisement” as some kind of natural disaster, plague, war, or terrorist attack would be.
The harm Blago and his immediate predecessor, Republican George Ryan, now in federal prison, did to the state of Illinois goes far beyond just embarrassment. Their legacy of irresponsible mis-spending, overspending, and borrowing to fund pet projects has left the state with a $13 billion budget deficit, massive unfunded public pension debt, and vendors/service providers waiting months or sometimes years for payment. The fiscal devastation they left behind (and which Blago’s successor, Pat Quinn, has done little to correct) will not be corrected without either 1) burdensome tax and fee hikes, 2) program cuts so severe that nearly every Illinois resident will suffer inconvenience, loss or hardship as a result, or 3) a combination of these measures.
Lost jobs in both the private and public sectors; lost educational opportunities due to cuts in direct school funding as well as college student aid; roads, parks, state facilities and other infrastructure falling into ruin; poor, disabled and elderly residents losing services they have come to rely upon; a higher cost of living; businesses moving out of or refusing to locate in the state; and more people moving out of the state than in. Elections have consequences, and if this is not sufficient punishment for having elected a clown like Blago twice, I don’t know what is.
So if we are to be delivered in the future from the fury of someone like Blago, we must first get our own priorities in order. Understand our federal and state constitutions as well as genuine Catholic social teaching including the principle of subsidiarity (meeting needs at the lowest level of society or government capable of doing so). Take time to research and ask questions about candidates’ backgrounds and knowledge before voting — don’t rely purely upon campaign commercials or sensational headlines. Do not look for a political Messiah or perfect candidate who can solve all problems, or focus purely on those who “bring home the bacon” for one’s own community, district, etc. Insist that our leaders put basic honesty, fairness, integrity, and respect for life and liberty first, and the other issues should take care of themselves, even if short-term pain and sacrifice are necessary.