Thursday, January 29, 2009

What will Blagojevich do this morning?

A couple of hours from now, at approximately 11:00am CST, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is scheduled to stand up in the State Senate and give a 'closing argument' in a trial that he has -- up until now -- boycotted. Ninety minutes have been allotted for this purpose.

Speculation abounds as to whether he will announce his resignation -- or whether Blagojevich will give an extended version of the spin he gave on network and cable outlets earlier this week. Maybe Joy Behar will come in and muss his hair again. Maybe he'll bring in a puppy or a sick child as a prop.

What he does -- assuming he actually does show up -- may depend on whether he gets to collect his pension if he is removed from office. There will be a year, maybe two years, before his federal corruption trial -- remember, those charges have not even been filed -- is concluded. He'd lose his pension after conviction anyway -- but what about the next two years?

Blagojevich may be crazy... but he is not likely to deprive himself and his family of the pension he has accumulated. If the impeachment vote goes ahead... and if Blagojevich believes the vote would go against him, as he has at least intimated in various interviews this week... and if that would cut off his pension, bet the mortgage money on his speech being a variation on the theme of 'you can't fire me, I quit!'

I make no predictions myself -- there's too many 'ifs' here -- but I offer two quick observations instead:

First, I was always taught that a lawyer who takes a case to trial has already lost -- no matter the outcome. There's a reason why over 99% of civil cases filed in Cook County settle before trial: It makes economic sense for both sides to figure out a way to get rid of the case without a trial. Trials are expensive... and their outcomes are uncertain. And the lawyer who has despaired of settling the case loses a great deal of stomach lining in those last few days before a trial starts -- remembering all the things that might have been done, or asked of witnesses, looking up all the cases that might be in point, trying to divine the most persuasive way of framing the jury instructions.... In my experience, at least, giving a closing argument is about the only consolation for the agony of putting on a trial: For the first and only time the advocate is able to pull the whole case together, telling the story of the case as he or she sees it, in the way he or she wants it told.

Mr. Blagojevich has apparently figured out a way to do the only fun part of a trail without suffering through the painful proceedings that precede it.

Second, the greatest damage Mr. Blagojevich has done is to civics teachers around the country. His 'constitutional' arguments about confronting witnesses and issuing subpoenas have zero merit: He is facing an impeachment trial, not a criminal trial. (Not yet.) An American President can only be impeached, according to the nation's Constitution, only for "high crimes and misdemeanors." Mr. Clinton was spared, in large part, because Senators could legitimately doubt whether Clinton's perjury about his extramarital affairs met this standard.

There is no such standard in the Illinois Constitution. Here, a governor may be impeached and removed from office for any reason. It is first, last and only a political process. In theory, a sufficiently Republican legislature could go on impeaching Democrats elected statewide until they got to one of their own -- and vice versa. (This couldn't happen in Blue Illinois -- Democrats control both legislative chambers and all statewide offices.) Political reality helps to keep this from ever happening: No one is likely to vote to remove a governor from office if the senator's constituents will turn him or her out of office in retaliation. Political fantasy plays a role also: Politicians imagine themselves rising through office after office. No one would lightly do to another what might be done to him when he attains that office.

But did interviewers sufficiently challenge Blagojevich when he spouted his wacky, distorted conflation of judicial and political processes? Nope. And I'm afraid that many people have been taken in by what he's had to say. I've heard -- and heard reports of -- call-in shows on both liberal and conservative radio stations where callers have spouted Blagojevich talking points as if they made sense. If there are enough gullible people concentrated in enough state senate districts... well, Blagojevich needs just 20 out of 59 votes to survive today.

Anything is possible.

UPDATE: The Capitol Fax Blog cites this 'breaking news' story on the Chicago Tribune website for the proposition that Blagojevich's pension is safe -- for now -- even if he is removed from office today by the State Senate. The odds that he he will say anything along the lines of 'you can't fire me, I quit' are now greatly reduced. But, again, anything is possible.


The Beach Bum said...

Curmudgeon -

I just listened to Blagojevich's closing argument live on WGN Radio.

I was impressed!

I'll listen to the rebuttal later.

Either way I think he's a goner.

The Beach Bum

The Intellectual Redneck said...

Illinois senate tells Rod Blagojevich to not let the door hit him in the butt on the way out

Personally, I am going to miss this guy. He epitomizes the worst of Democratic politics.