Allen Drury, the former newspaperman turned author of the famed “Advise and Consent” series has often come to mind when writing my blog posts. I loved his series of books, all of which sit on a special bookshelf and look down on me at I type my posts. I believe he would find great interest in former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.
Blago, as he came to be called, is in the news again because Donald Trump followed through on his half-baked idea of commuting his prison sentence. The crime which Blagojevich was sentenced for was one of the most outlandish corrupt pay-to-play scandals seen in a long time. A very long time.
Let us not forget that he was indicted for threatening to withhold $8 million in state Medicaid reimbursements to Chicago’s Children’s Memorial Hospital until the hospital’s executive donated $50,000 to his re-election campaign.
Drury had constructed a whole list of multi-dimensional characters for his books, and some were based on real-life politicians. I am certain Drury would see Blagojevich as the perfect outline for a long-running character that would be weaved throughout a series of books. After all, there is no way to tell the Blagojevich story in only one volume.
When Blagojevich was first running for governor in Illinois I was struck by his ability to speak on the stump to voters. He had an ample supply of stories and witty replies that made him look comfortable in front of a crowd, and after voters felt he was ‘one of them’, they voted him into office. There was talk about how he looked like a national candidate and retained the confidence and style that made him a natural for higher office. I recall at the time (2003) I told my office mates at a non-profit in Madison that this was a politician to watch, as he had real potential. There also were the facts of his being on the right side of the issues, be it health care or the environment. There was so much hope for this new governor, and the future that he might have in Democratic politics.
Whatever character flaws Rod Blagojevich had hidden from the public during that first campaign for governor came bursting out for all to see once he took office. The smoothness of the campaign soon turned into slickness, and the concern that he exhibited for voters soon was discovered to be a sideshow for the real reason he wanted an office. Self-aggrandizement and personal gain. How we have seen that story play out over the past several years on the national stage!
Blagojevich is not the first politician to be so crass and brazen, and Trump will not be the last. But it is sad to know that there was a real opportunity for Blago to have made a legacy–a good one mind you–in Illinois and then perhaps stepped out onto the national stage in a positive way. Needless to say, it did not turn out the way many had hoped or thought possible.
Allen Drury’s character in a book would not receive a commuted sentence, and this real-life character was not deserving of a commutation from Trump.
The 60-something was not supposed to be released from a minimum-security prison in Colorado until May 2024. The U.S. Supreme Court declined on multiple occasions to hear Blagojevich’s appeals. In fact, Trump’s own solicitor general said in a court filing in 2018 that the ex-governors challenges to his convictions were “unwarranted.”
This whole sorry story today can be whittled down to Trump doing nothing more than to throw more red meat to his base that no one can have any trust in the federal government.
We are aware of the thread-bare line about Trump claiming an interest in ‘draining the swamp’ but the commuted sentence of Blago sends the clearest signal that corruption has a place to land safely in the Donald Trump Administration.