Daily Herald opinion: Blagojevich’s impotent populism

Former governor’s unapologetic pleas of victimhood are even more disturbing than his weak legal case

No one was particularly surprised, not even the impeached former governor himself, with the ruling of a federal judge on Thursday that Rod Blagojevich cannot sue to block an Illinois law that forbids him from returning to public office. Yet, amid a certain sense of gratitude that we should not have to reckon with the distasteful potential of a resurrected Rod Blagojevich political career, we cannot escape sincere disappointment that he thinks he is owed one.

Blagojevich was impeached and removed from his position as governor in January 2009. Later that year, he was convicted of corruption charges that included trying to sell the appointment to a vacant U.S. Senate seat, shaking down a hospital CEO for a campaign contribution and holding up legislation related to the horse-racing industry over a contribution demand. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison and served eight before being released early in 2020, thanks to a commutation from then-President Donald Trump.

In all that time, Blagojevich has insisted he was a victim of the political system. He has never shown remorse nor apologized for the acts that got him kicked out of office and convicted of crimes in a duly established, transparent court system. And yet, though he previously said he didn’t have any specific plans to seek office again, he thought he should have the right, no matter what.

“The people should be able to decide who they want or don't want to represent them — not federal judges or establishment politicians who are afraid of governors who fight for the people,” a Blagojevich spokesman wrote on X following U.S. District Judge Steven Seeger’s 10-page dismissal. And, yes, the people's voice through the ballot box is the foundation of our democratic process.

But clearly such reasoning extends only so far. Even the framers of both the Illinois and the U.S. constitutions acknowledged that some at least minimal age and citizenship standards must limit the people's ability to choose their leaders, and both constitutions also include restrictions forbidding officials removed by impeachment from continuing to seek public office. So, it is a nonsensical stretch to declare that an impeached, removed and criminally convicted former official should have unfettered access to what the U.S. Constitution calls “any office of honor, trust or profit.”

Seeger’s stinging rejection of that claim feasts on the low-hanging fruit of Blagojevich’s impotent case with an almost unseemly glibness that extends even to a quotation from Dr. Seuss. One longs for Blagojevich to get the message and heed the judge's Seuss-inspired intonation for him and his lawyers to “Go. Go. GO! I don't care how.”

But there is another issue here even more important than a cleverly worded scolding. What we really need is for Blagojevich, and the rest of us, to reject the temptation of simple-minded populist-sounding rants and to respect basic standards of qualification that the people, their constitutions and their elected officials have set for people seeking positions of legal authority.

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