Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Whitewater: The Next Generation

Blagojevich, Blagojevich, Blagojevich...when you say a word over and over, it starts to sound like nonsense.

Not to the intrepid Washington newshounds, though. They love to say it. They say it loud and there's music playing, the sit-up-straight-and-pay-attention music that CNN uses to alert us to a breaking story about a plane crash or a missing child. It fills their heads to the point where they fail to notice that nobody is paying any attention. People in forty-nine states and even in Illinois are preoccupied with other questions, like "Where do I go to file for unemployment?" "How do food stamps work?" and "Would my family be better off if I accidentally fell asleep in the garage with the motor running?"

An apparently corrupt governor with an obvious connection to the president-elect, and both of them Democrats? Christmas has come early. Right now Barack Obama could call a press conference to announce that he's moving the White House to the moon, and the first question he took would begin, "Concerning Governor Blagojevich..." In fact, damned if it didn't happen a few minutes ago after he named his Secretary of Education, and he came as close as he ever has to telling the reporter to shut up and sit down. (Obama reminds me of the exquisitely unthreatening characters Sidney Poitier had to play for most of his career; one of these days, I hope to see him cut loose and go all Virgil Tibbs on some deserving party.) It's the guilt-by-association tactic that didn't work during the campaign, with Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers, so why would it work with Rod Blagojevich? Forget about fairness. Three months ago, when the Republican governor of Alaska was running for vice-president, did anyone ask what she knew and when she knew it about the Republican senator from Alaska then under indictment (and eventually convicted) on seven felony counts? Sarah Palin's ignorance of everything except the Bible is just about encyclopedic, but it stands to reason she must have heard something about Ted's House of Gifts. Were they afraid of making her cry? And even if Obama were dirty, is it likely the smartest man in Chicago would get on a phone he knew was tapped and have an incriminating conversation with the dumbest man in Chicago?

It can't just be the fun of saying "Blagojevich," a name few could pronounce two weeks ago. Or "Blago," or the unspeakable "B-Rod." I think it's the joy of scandal itself. Most reporters are men, and men are supposed to know stuff. They're supposed to know about cars, be able to peer under the hood and figure out what's wrong, although everyone knows you can't diagnose an automotive problem without a computer these days. They're supposed to know all about sports, to be able to name long-dead shortstops or point guards. They have to be able to discourse on why Woody Herman was better than Stan Kenton. They think nobody else can carve the turkey or grill indigestible meats outdoors, and as for sex...well, I blame Playboy . So when forced to report day after day on economic and financial matters so arcane that even the Securities and Exchange Commission can't explain them, the boys began yearning for a juicy story they could understand.

It's starting to look like Patrick Fitzgerald was a little hasty in coming to their aid. He still has no indictment, which can only come from a federal grand jury, and members of his staff wanted to wait until they had an exchange of money or at least an offer on tape. The attorney general and the legislature are trying everything they can think of to get rid of Blagojevich, who naturally is not going anywhere; when and how Illinois will get a second senator is anybody's guess. But the repetitive drone of questions, speculation and half-baked opinions will continue until something sexier comes along. And of course, the farther right you venture, the wilder grows the surmise. For example, Sean Hannity knows that Obama will cover up the governor's crimes (and by association his own) by "firing" Fitzgerald. Reality: every US attorney, and thousands of other political appointees, will resign as of January 20 so that the new President, as always, can appoint his own people; they'd do the same if John McCain had won. Is the Fox audience that stupid?

Anyway, barring another reporter with better aim and bigger shoes, we're going to get Blago'd till the spring thaw. Or until we get news media that isn't in show business, but I can't wait that long.

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