Like many New Yorkers, I have been trying to escape the recession-induced blahs by wringing some holiday cheer out of scaled-down year-end parties and unprecedented sales. But spiked eggnog and half-price racks at Bloomingdale's pale in comparison to a juicy political scandal. This season’s latest brought the cable networks back to life with dramatic wall to wall coverage of Governor Rod Blagojevich’s indictment for a “public corruption crime spree.” I’ve been glued to the Blago-drama ever since.
As far as political scandals go, it’s got just about everything. And for Republicans who haven’t had too much to smile about this season, we are relieved that the scandal torch has been passed to the Democrats. The Blagos are just too good to be true. First, there’s his hair. That he finds someone to cut it that way is a crime in itself. Then there’s the fabulous, foul-mouthed Mrs. Blago. All I want for Christmas is ten hours of FBI wiretaps that feature Mrs. Blago talking about “holding up that f***ing Cubs s***."
The Blagos are just too good to be true. First, there’s his hair. That he finds someone to cut it that way is a crime in itself.
Having attended graduate school in Chicago and dabbled in a bit of local reporting while studying at Northwestern, I have an appreciation for the special burdens placed on reporters tasked with holding Illinois politicians accountable. It’s not an easy job, and a lot of sleaze falls through the cracks, but most residents of Chicago hold their local papers in high esteem. Local media outlets are viewed by many Chicagoans as a much-needed “check” on area politicians. The Blagos' plan to demand the firing of an editorial writer is as idiotic as it is astounding.
Then there’s the real stunner of the indictment—the alleged effort to sell President-elect Obama’s Senate seat. The pay-to-play allegations read like the indictment of a mob boss, only the mob includes employees of the state and the boss is its governor.
For obvious reasons, the press is focused on Team Obama’s contacts with Blago, which Team Obama have described as consisting of nothing “inappropriate.” I imagine there are more contacts than we currently know about, but his people seem smart enough not to become criminally entangled with a scumbag like Blago.
The media drumbeat for a detailed accounting of contacts is a good start, but I fear that it’s the first example of just how low the press is holding the bar for Obama. Any politician would be expected to detail contact with an indicted public official whose tangle of alleged crimes includes the sale of that candidate’s current office. The expectations set by the press seem to have driven the Obama team’s disclosures and actions to date. Obama—who has promised the most transparent transition in history—could have done more than offer to reveal all contacts and cooperate with law enforcement.
In keeping with Obama’s commitment to usher in a new era of accountability and an end to the types of political clashes that breed divisiveness and acrimony, he should call for a special election to determine who will replace him in the US Senate. It would put some action behind all of his talk about the new politics of hope and change and the merits of post-partisanship. President-elect Obama has an opportunity to show the public that he sees this scandal for what it is: a complete breakdown and violation of the public’s trust in those elected to represent their best interests. The Blagojevich scandal is a political earthquake with an epicenter located smack dab in Obama’s front yard. It would represent the best of our president-elect’s instincts for leadership—and far exceeding all expectations for handling his first political crisis—if he wiped the slate clean and joined Republican calls for a special election.
In an era of transformational leaders and historic elections, the Blago scandal offers us the first transformational disgrace. It has the potential to unite Democrats and Republicans in a collective feeling of disgust and genuine awe at the sociopathic nature of a man elected governor not once, but twice. I hope our new president doesn’t miss the opportunity to show all those young new voters that he so effectively brought into the political arena during this year’s election what our leaders can do when they are willing to walk the walk.
Until then, I’ll be on my couch eating peppermint bark and watching cable news. Thank you, Santa.
Nicolle Wallace served as a senior adviser to the McCain-Palin campaign from May 2008 to November 2008. Prior to joining the McCain campaign, she worked as a political analyst at CBS News. She served President George W. Bush as an assistant to the president and director of communications for the White House from January 2005 to June 2006 and as communications director for President Bush's 2004 re-election campaign.