Monday, January 5, 2009
Personal Aside: No Kidding, It Was Nice to Host Lynn Sweet Last Night but-- and the Dems Real Problem Re: Burris.
How Sweet it Was. Huh?
I warn you: this is going to be a long one. But bear me out. Its important. If youre pressed for time, print it out and read it at your leisure. I havent seen these ideas anywhere else.
It was fun to host Lynn Sweet on the phone from Washington, D. C, on my WLS radio show last night even though she tried to filibuster until she was called on it even though she angrily threatened to hang up early even though she thought my questions about Roland Burris rejection by Harry Reid were race-motivated when she refused to give a clue as to how the Reid-Burris imbroglio will be settled even though she said she knew (maintaining outrageously that people will have to pay 50 cents for her paper this morning to find out: brilliant chutzpah) and even though she high-hatted the Chicago audience by saying she was talking on a cell phone while in an elevator on the way to CNN I (so much for us little people). Were old friendly adversaries and what I said in her introduction was true: of any national reporter-columnist-commentator she is in the most advantageous position because she knows all the players. Indeed, as I have said often: she is the feminine version of the late George Tagge of the Tribune. She is not only astute as a reporterbut far more than that.
As was Tagge, she is a political PLAYER. Tagge was on the inside of the Republican party as adviser, sage strategist and unofficial policy-maker for many years in Illinois and the nation (playing a counselor role in the campaigns of Robert Taft for the presidency). Lynn Sweet is on the inside of the Democratic party and is so close to the Chicago operation which, after all, is the national operation (with Axelrod, Emanuel, Plouffe et al) she knows exactly how they think because she thinks as they do. Like Tagge, she knows intimately the political game. If she were required to, she could easily run a Dem political campaign herself since she knows the issues, the nuts and bolts, the system.
All this is eminently correct. With that expertise, when shes on with regular boob interviewers, Lynn assumes the role of the Great Expositor, explaining as she puts it, the Democratic drillbut, of course, she does more than explain because she is part of the format and passionately supports the liberal Democratic agenda. With me last night, she was held down from explaining to answeringwhich was the reason the lady erupted angrily and threatened to hang up. Still and all, it was a revelatory interview. Heres why:
1. She indicated a compromise is in the works as it would have to be between Harry Reid and the Burris people. She wouldnt admit it in fact struggled passionately to deny it but the role Reid has undertaken is untenable for the Dems politically. John Tillman, my other guest last night, is probably right when he guessed that they may temporarily seat Burris with the understanding he will step down as soon as Pat Quinn becomes governor and names someone else. My own guess is that this is a deal that will be offered but that Burris who is now in the limelight would be smart not to accept itand allow the process to work through the U.S. Supreme Court.
2. She stonewalled on Reids effrontery to list Illinois senators who would not be acceptable as covered in garish detail on her own newspapers front page yesterday. She said that is common practice for politicians. She knows better. The common practice is for the word to be passed discreetly not a near-ultimatum. She stonewalled because as an astute observer she knows what Reid did was as crazy as a dog howling at the moon. And her own newspaper rather unprofessionally illustrated it by faking a photo with Reid purportedly holding a paper aloft on which the names of Jackson, Jones, Davis and Burrisall African Americanswere scratched out. In stonewalling that, Lynn was acting the Democratic apologist, not the analyst.
3. She stonewalled one of the more revelatory items that has ever appeared in Carol Marins column. Yesterday Marin revealed that in Obamas news conferences in this city, many reporters dont ask questionsbecause the procedure has been for the Obama-ites to cherry pick the questioners and a list is picked early of the reporters who will be allowed to ask the Messiah questions. Marin indicated that increasingly there is too much reportorial deferentiality. Sweet denied this, saying thats the way it always is. Oh really? Doesnt this come close to management of the news? Since the Obama people know wholl ask the questions, isnt it a short jump to assume they know what the questions will be so as to prepare the Great Swami for the correct answers? The stonewalling by Sweet was surprising because she has been in the forefront of pushing the Obama people to be more transparent.
4. She said Bobby Rush was not a racist by telling a news conference a black should be succeeded by a black. Surprised her tongue didnt stick to the roof of her mouth. Thats really playing defense Big Time.
5. She agreed the case of Bill Richardson who pulled out as commerce secretary-designate until allegations of pay-to-play are settled was done because Obama doesnt need another pay-to-play. Right she was.
6. But good soldier that she is, she played Company person when she said that it is not untoward that Rahm Emanuel has been spending these invaluable weeks in Africajust happening to go there when the heat turned up on his conversations with Blago.
So, although she was rude, she served the half-hour well. She even called me sweetie. I still think shes superb at what she does. But she was a little snot last night. And unbelievably tacking the official Democratic line. Even Tagge while pushing the GOP line would pause every so often and raise his eyes to heaven as if to say O Lord, forgive me for what I have to do! Lynn may have raised her eyes to heaven in Washington on her cell phone but it didnt sound like it.
The Two Political Capital Sins.
The Illinois Democratic party is awash in two of the four capital sins that can beset a group of office-seekers: (1) power greed, the tendency to forget long-range victory with the grabby wish to rake in all the chips in the poker game immediately; and (2) nepotism, the insensate desire to see ones relatives get on the taxpayers dole no matter what the cost to the party. *For the other two, see end of this article.
Here Democrats control every major office here from the all-important mayoralty of Chicago and Cook county through the Daley clan through the governorship, the two houses of the legislature and all state constitutional offices. In 2002, corrupt Republican governor George Ryan decided not to run again being rather preoccupied with the full-time task of trying to defend himself from going to jail, the Democratic leadership saw a great opportunity: to snag the governorship. Mayor Richard M. Daley saw his chance to acquire the governorship for his party...not just have it run by a Republican lackey as Ryan was.
An Outstanding Dem Candidate is Vetoed.
Lo! an outstanding Democratic candidate appeared. He had been the very successful superintendent of schools in Chicago, of independent mien who began a large-scale reform of education. His name was Paul Vallas, satisfactorily liberal, a Democrat all his life. Few candidates of either party has Vallas top-to-bottom knowledge of Illinois government. His Democratic pedigree was impeccable. He had been top budget assistant to the last state Democrat of any stature, Phil Rock the president of the state senate. Then Vallas became budget chief under Daley where he did an outstanding job. When Daley assumed responsibility of the citys floundering public schools, he made Vallas superintendent. Vallas put the city schools on a fast track to reform.
Unfortunately, along the way he incurred stepped on some teachers union toes as he sought to ensure improvement in test scores.
Now, with Daley, if you tussle with the unions, you get criticized obliquely by the mayor at a news conference. Vallas was rebuffed and took it like a gentleman. He didnt criticize Daley but nevertheless stood his ground. The Daley rumbles went on and on until Vallas disagreement with the union got him fired. Fired in a nice, vague corporate kind of way. Once again, as he proved so many times in the past, Daley doesnt just want a superb administrator, he wants a cravenly subservient aide.
He wanted the reforms Vallas introduced but a weaker more accommodating guy to schmooze people. That was a mistake because the pace of reform in the citys public schools got bogged down. Thus, despite his own reelections are never in danger, Daley is so scared of losing any votes that he continues to make the same mistakes: he wants yes-men first because he is addicted to power greed, the great vice that has brought down bigger men than Daley. To replace Vallas, Daley named Vallas deputy, Arne Duncan who is more sensitive to Democratic party concerns. So much so that Duncan is Barack Obamas choice for education secretary despite the fact that school reform once nationally recognized under Vallas had slowed to a walk.
Being fired by Daley didnt hurt Vallas career. On the contrary there was such an uproar by reformers when he left since he was recognized as a national expert on urban schools he was hired to make big bucks as a private consultant to cities and states. In 2001 he decided to seek the Democratic nomination for governor of Illinois that would be up the following year. A logical decision. His magnificent credentials were unmatched by anyone in either party and election of a Democrat was almost a sure-thing given Republican corruption under Gov. George Ryan. Vallas made the traditional pilgrimage to city hall to kiss the mayoral ring-- and got the impression his run was okay with Daley. Ahbut that impression was wrong. Indirection is regarded as an Irish Democratic trait in Chicago politics and Daley is a master at concealing his true feelings.
Enter Uriah Heep Supposedly.
Privately, Daley was on the verge of making yet another mistake with the sin of power greed. preferred a lackey in the post, subservient to himself as the Great Lord God Jehovah. He delicately passed the word that he preferred a candidate for governor with the unctuous traits of subservience not unlike Uriah Heep. One appeared. He was a good looking kid in a boyish, eastern European kind of way with a mop of curly black hair that tumbled on his forehead which made old ladies wish he was available to marry their daughters (they changed their minds later). He had been an assistant to Daley as states attorney so he supposedly knew the drill. Earlier, his multi-millionaire alderman-ward boss father-in-law had spent a kingly sum on billboards telling voters how to pronounce his surname Rod Blagojevich.
Hispanics tumbled into the fold since the alderman ward-boss (whom they called affectionately the old gringo) gave hundreds city jobs. With his father-in-laws purse and connections as a powerful city ward boss, the kid had been elected to the Illinois House and then the U.S. Housebut he hadnt served in either place long enough to compile a record. His name: Rod Blagojevich. With Daleys tacit approval, Democratic minions gave each other fist bumps with such enthusiasm their diamond pinky rings clicked. Now the next question was with Hispanics aboard for Blagojevich, what about the blacks? They were for Vallas because of the good things he did for their kids in the public schools.
To get Blago elected, the bosses had to siphon away black votes. So they recruited a black Dem into the race, providing modest funding for him to get around. His job: to sop up the black votes that would otherwise go to Vallas. His name: Roland Burris the first black state comptroller and attorney general. Burris was far from inspiring so to ensure he Burris had credibility, Daley ordered the ever-obedient Sen. Barack Obama to endorse Burris. Obama did. And the siphon worked: Blago was nominated and won election. After Blago took the oath, Burris returned to private business as a lobbyist. Vallas went on to greater attention as the hugely successful school superintendent of Philadelphia and is now the superintendent of New Orleans where he reports directly to the governor.
Well, as we know, Blago turned not just independent but in turns strange, reclusive, erratic, self-injurious, weird and finally near maniacal. He fought with his father-in-law who wanted a few measly favors, rupturing their relationship forever. Then Blago signaled no deal on the budget with the number two Democratic power in the state, House Speaker Mike Madigan. Unthinkable! Madigan who has been a power for 30 years is second only to Daley himself the two not particularly close but they are accustomed to the roles of Vladimir Putin (Daley) and Dmitry Medvedev (Madigan). But Blago even threatened to ruin Daleys cherished Chicago Olympics dream for 2016. Dems said: He was truly mad! This had never been done before! Springfield became budget-less, spending rose, a capital building program languished, Blago wouldnt consider a tax hike. And there was worse.
The nosy U. S. District Attorney was probing Blagos obscene money-raising in preparation for reelection in 2006, his blatant play-for-pay deals. The Dem pols now feared Blago was a berserk lightning rod who by his excesses and un-subtle tactics would draw the wrath of the Justice Department upon them alleven possibly Daley! Already Daleys top patronage guy had pleaded guilty and was sentenced. Now the question was: what to do about Blago?
To Lisa with Love from Daddy.
The logical thing would be to run a hack against Blago in the 2006 primary and beat him. But here Speaker Madigan, the Dem No. 2 intervened. Madigan has an attorney general step-daughter, Lisa Madigan, who wants to become governor and whose natural mother (Madigans wife) dearly wishes to become governor. But while fully groomed for stardom in AG, Lisa was mother to two young children and Lisas mama insisted Lisa should not run for governor in 2006. 2010 would be right. Thus did the sin of nepotism intrude. What to do? Some counseled: make a deal with the Republicans, allow the machine to fall in step behind one of their lackluster candidates and have the candidate beat Blago in 2006 after which Lisa Madigan would be ready to assume the Restoration in 2010.
Thats the route Daley originally wanted. Democratic mayors have worked with Republican governors beforeDaley I with Stratton and Ogilvie, Daley II with George Ryan. And lo! the logical Republican was at handthe sole Republican state office-holder. The office-holder had even signaled that a temporary income tax would be acceptable to bail the state out of its problems. Sounded reasonableexcept
Here Madigan objected. The Republican state office holder was a a.. woman! Judy Baar Topinka! If she became governor during an interregnum, she would still be the first woman governor of Illinois! Madigan wanted that honor for his step-daughter. After some consideration, Daley was forced to concede. After all, who is more prone to family favoritism than Daley. The rabbit hutches of city government are riddled with his relatives.
So, it was decided. The alternative: Hold our noses and back Blago for reelection. We will have to endure the next four years but then we will usher in the restoration with fair Lisa.
Now at this point, a perfectly good Democratic candidate entered the race to oppose Blago in the primary. He was clean, reformist, a multi-millionaire and bright, a former alderman and federal official named Edwin Eisendrath. But Poppa Mike growled, Eisendrath could well be a blockade as governor, would probably run for reelection which would preclude his darling Lisa from her chance! Everything and I mean everything is centered around Lisa! Thus nepotism and power greed consumed the party yet again. No, they would have to stick with Blago.
So bad did Poppa Madigan want to help his stepdaughter to succeed Blago that he volunteered to serve as the general campaign chairman for Blago the man he hated more than anyone else in the world to get him reelected. This, notwithstanding the hot breath of Patrick Fitzgerald on Blagos neck. Thus did the sins of nepotism and power greed cause Daley and Madigan to capitulate their good senses. Blagos huge war-chest of ill-gotten funds got him reelected.
Poppa Mike Stalls on ImpeachmentFearing Quinn.
After he was reelected, Blago went even more wild, ignoring the legislature, spending state monies on child health without authorization. Now even the Democratic House had enough. A move began to impeach Blago. Madigan drew back, knowing that if Blago went, the lieutenant governor, a kind of Ralph Nader quasi-reformer would be governor and conceivably tough for his dimpled darling Lisa to beat. Some said maybe not but taciturn Mike didnt want to leave anything to chance.
Then the feds unfurled the tape in which Blago was putting Obamas senate seat up for sale and physically arrested the governor. Madigan couldnt hold back any longer and by the time you read this, Blago may well have been impeachedunanimously by the House. But he will not have been disposed of yet. The state senate must serve as a jury which will take some time.
There still remained the issue of how Obamas senate seat should be filledby Blagos appointment or special election. Most of the Dems in the legislature refused to call for a special election for Obamas Senate seat because, although the Illinois public sorely wanted an election, Daley and national Dems feared a Republican might win the seat they coveted for themselves (power greed). So Blago a lot nutty but still with an ingenious streak took matters into his own hands and made the appointment.
He named Burris no genius but who is untainted by any of Blagos past sins.
Power-Madness is Catching, Seizes Reid.
Heres where the entire national Dem party takes a tumble. Not to be rude but can anyone tell me why one Harry Reid of Searchlight, Nevada should have any say about who should represent Illinois in the U.S. Senate? Reid is the Senate majority leader but shouldnt the decision be made by Illinoisans preferably at the ballot boxbut failing that by appointment of the governor who hasnt been indicted yet? Yet as we know, Reid submitted a list to Blago which crossed out any blacks mentioned and which identified only Lisa Madigan and the state veterans director Tammy Duckworth as acceptable. Blago rejected Reids advice as he had Daleys and Madigans in the past and named Burris.
Get this. Now Reid is in such a tamper-fit that he says he will block Burris seating. A Nevada pol is chest-thumping mad because we arent taking his curt order. A compromise might come soonbut Burris will have to swallow hard. Will he? Well see.
Is Burris an empty suit? How can you tell when sitting next to him is a truly certifiable empty suit the senior senator from Illinois? Or another empty suit, the member of the banking committee, the Honorable Chris Dodd who receives favors from Countrywide Financial? Empty Suits? Have you seen that lamentable TV clip of 90-year-old Robert Byrd trying to formulate his thoughts with the drool on his chin?
Still and from afar, the Messiah of Illinois who is president-elect the man who is supposed to bring us all together says little or nothing about his own successor: mainly echoing Reid.
Proving political vice is catching, the national Dems now are consumed by the disease that has consumed the Illinois party: power-greed and nepotism.
Not that Burris is easy to take. A smug little man with a dancing light in his eyes,fitted with elevator shoes to enable him to reach a commanding 5 foot 6, he is not burdened with much interest in issues or ideology but he is consumed with Self. What do you think of a man who at 71 is in excellent health but who has already built his own mausoleum in Oak Woods cemetery with a full list of state offices he has held (along with other attainments) and has copiously allowed enough room for updating with more? The slab reads: Trail Blazer: First African-American in Illinois to Become--Illinois Attorney General, Illinois State Comptroller, Vice President-Continental Illinois National Bank, National Bank Examiner, U.S. Treasury Dept, President of the National Association of State Comptrollers well, you get the idea. He also was an African American notary public why isnt thataw skip it.
The important thing: There is ample space left for a sculptor to chisel U. S. Senator from Illinois.
As goofy as Blago is, pompous as Burris is, as power-driven and nepotism-prone as Daley and Madigan are, as arrogant of Illinois prerogatives as Reid is as subservient to Dem bosses as Obama is all Americans have now benefited from this melee which instructs us on how the political system can stall in the U.S. and Illinois--when one party controls all the levers and all the swag.
*The other two major political capital sins are Venality the temptation that with political power you can easily pull in big buck favors from your influential position (See: Dodd Sen. Chris [D-Conn.] and his sweetheart deal with Countryside Financial and Concupiscence Latin for I may be old, fat and repulsive but if we have dinner maybe we can figure out how I can help your career, m dear! (Too many bipartisan examples to count).