If you were to read in a work of fiction about a notoriously crooked politician who, faced with an opportunity to appoint somebody to fill an important vacancy, got caught soliciting money and other favors from potential appointees, you would find the situation implausible. Nobody could be that foolish.
Except in real life. IIlinois governor Rod Blagojevich put Barack Obama’s vacant senate seat up for bid, and we know he did it because the FBI tapped his phone and has him and his people on tape with an abundance of incriminating utterances. The governor must have known he was under close surveillance: a couple of his most loyal supporters are being prosecuted for federal crimes in which he’s been implicated. How could he be so reckless, when he’s already under suspicion, as to offer Obama’s senate seat to the high bidder?
It seems reckless to ordinary citizens, but public officials are not like us. Government is a racket, as they know, and cautious, law-abiding people don’t make good racketeers. Hence the governor’s surfeit of confidence: he was just doing what was expected of him as a corrupt public official. Rod and staff relied, justifiably, on their many associates in the Democratic party (including our next president) not to rat them out, and Dems seem to have accommodated them. Some of the potential appointees turned the governor down, if we can believe his phone conversations, but they didn’t turn him in. His supporters across the state could not have failed to know what he was, and they went along, because corruption is a tool of the political trade. People who don’t make use of it don’t last long in public office.
Citizens who think this is an Illinois problem should open their eyes. Elective office now attracts only liars and cheats. If you’re not willing to tell voters what they want to hear, accept bribes from political contributors, wine, dine and advertise with the local media, and sacrifice the public interest to the narrow interests of connected people in your sphere of influence, you won’t win elections. Some of our leaders are less crooked than Blagojevich and some are more crooked, but they are all crooks or facilitators of crooks. Because of their vice, our nation is in a state of catastrophic failure, and they’re all scurrying now to secure something for themselves before the political structure collapses.
The cure for this is not republican government. Elections are futile (as the last one proves) when grafters and cheats control them. The cure is likely to be citizen tribunals, criminal prosecutions outside our discredited judicial system, with a sentence of death for malfeasors, much like the process established for people kidnaped by the US government in the post 9/11 pogroms. The process used by our leaders to dispatch Saddam Hussein and select members of his family could well serve as a model.
The Blagojevich case probably won’t require such a process–he’s part of the minority of crooked officials targeted by government prosecutors and he’ll welcome the security of a prison cell–but there’s a vast contingent of well-groomed, unprosecutable thugs out there, and retribution will be had one way or another. Bush and Cheney, if they’re not held accountable in our courts, will almost certainly hang upside down some day from adjoining posts, and their facilitators in Congress and the media will find themselves in tumbrils. It’s happened before when politically powerless people got too riled.