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Congressman Rush Unleashes Race Into Blagojevich Senate Seat Selection

December 30, 2008

The absurd just became bizarre.

As if there was not enough chaos and demented action taking place by the recently arrested Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich announcing the appointment of Roland Burris to the U.S. Senate, we now have a Congressman hoping to stir up the racial angle of the whole matter.

Congressman Bobby Rush may be unknown to lots of readers around the nation, but as one who has followed Chicago politics, let me assure you that he can be rational.  Today however, was not one of those moments.  Rush should be ashamed of his words and his actions. 

To assume that there is a racial angle to this affair is perhaps the craziest thing yet to surface in the political drama.  And that is saying a lot.

I will let this tell the story.

The Blagojevich-Burris press conference was just a typical circus for a little while. Blago was his defiant self, sticking it to everybody and loving it. Roland Burris, looking as if butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth, played it cool and straight, ducking the questions about Harry Reid refusing to seat him or the Illinois secretary of state’s announcement about not certifying him as the senator.

It was crazy, but normal-crazy. Then Bobby Rush showed up. The south side congressman — the only man ever to defeat Barack Obama in an election — introduced the racial angle and dramatically raised the stakes.

It must be said that Rush made an entirely fair point. In 2004, when they elected Obama, the voters of Illinois chose an African American senator. And so, in determining who should fill out his term, it’s reasonable that race count as a factor. He pointed to Illinois’ recent history as the only state that’s elected two black senators (Obama and Carol Moseley Braun), arguing that the state has a history on this score that’s unique. That’s all fair.

But Rush wasn’t pleading. He was warning. He was daring Reid and the other senators to deny this black man the seat. I couldn’t quite believe my ears when he used the word “lynch,” but sure enough he did: he urged the members of the media “not to hang or lynch the appointee as you castigate the appointor.” He went on to say that he and his congressional allies would push Reid to reverse his position and said of the prospect of a bunch of white senators denying Burris the seat: “I don’t think they wanna go on record doing that.”

I covered lots of racial-politics conflagrations in New York in the very racially heated 1980s and 1990s, and I’ve heard rhetoric like Rush’s before, and I’ve seen its effects. When a black figure issues a public challenge like this, including one of the most heavily freighted dog-whistle words in American political history, to a white politician, sides start to line up. Tempers start to inflame. Whether the white pol stands firm or assents, somebody is going to be really, really unhappy.

Reid is in a spot. There’s a chance that is is going to be on black radio all over the country tomorrow morning, and if it is, it’s going to have nothing to do with Blago on those stations. It’ll have to do with whether the white Democratic leaders of the Senate, “who take our vote for granted in November,” etc., will spurn this obviously qualified black man.

And by the way, what does Obama do? Well, he stays a million miles away from it if he can. But what if he can’t? What if this now mushrooms into a fight so big that only he can settle it? I would imagine he’d rule with Reid; he certainly won’t want to be seen as kowtowing to racial demands before he even takes office. This is set up to be his gays-in-the-military, if he gets involved and mishandles it. I think the risk of that is prety slim, but it does exist, depending on how big a controversy this becomes.

It’ll be fascinating to see the polls on this over the next couple of days, particularly the views of black Illiniosans. If they don’t buy Rush’s argument, the story goes away. But if the racial temperature goes up, then this could turn into a big Democratic mess.

  1. December 31, 2008 1:30 PM

    Blagojevich definitely has the sleeze factor.

  2. December 31, 2008 6:10 AM

    Rush doesn’t really count. But I think it would have been a non-issue until the socially less than brilliant, cluelessly arrogant Chip Saltsman decided to distribute the Magic CD to fellow Rebulicans. With so little outrage from within the GOP, perhaps I should say RepubliKlans instead, huh?

  3. December 31, 2008 12:42 AM

    Blagojevich is the embodiment of political crookedness

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