Saturday, December 13, 2008

Making a Blagoyevich

Since the Gov. Blagoyevich "Pay to Play" scandal broke last week, I've had several discussions with friends and colleagues that all seem to come back to the question that sounds more or less like a variation on this: "How does a person get that out of touch with reality / that arrogant / that brazen, etc.?"

I think it's a great question. After all, the son of a Serbian blue-collar worker couldn't have come out of the womb that way, let alone acted that way during his rise to the highest office in his state.

The answer that we seem to come back to time and again is always a variation on the idea that once people attain some certain level of (take your pick) fame or wealth, they're able to cocoon themselves from all the forms of reality that *check* people like you and me on a daily basis.

They can surround themselves with cronies who will always laugh at their jokes, fix their coffee just the way they like it, and take a posterior-chewing anytime something goes wrong, regardless of whose fault it was in the first place. Those willing to tell the emperor when he's not wearing any clothes can easily be shunted to the side. Some public figures (notably, Colin Powell) are lucky enough to have spouses and/or friends who can keep them grounded, while others, like Rod Blago, have spouses and friends that go so far in the other direction as to enable the behavior.

If you or I just decided to start being insufferable you-know-whats to all the people that we work with, we'd be checked. Friends could stop calling. Colleagues could tell us to pound sand. Superiors could take *corrective measures* and subordinates would probably have formal channels in which to complain (I say 'probably' only because I don't really know what you do).

I guess that's all pretty obvious. What's amazing, though, is the way the cycle never ends.

I watched the no-questions press conference Jesse Jackson Jr. gave the day he was revealed to be Candidate #5, and I just watched an exclusive "conversation" (somehow it wasn't an interview) that Mr. Jackson gave with Don Lemon of CNN.

I must confess I don't have the transcript on hand, but in that press conference, I cringed a little bit when Mr. Jackson referred to politics as something like "the greatest form of public service" there was (I just tried a few Google searches for the transcript...I came up empty, but I swear he said something along those lines). Can this guy possibly be serious? I would argue that the 3rd-grade teacher who helps teach children how to read chapter books is providing a greater, nobler, and more altruistic public service than Mr. Jackson does, or probably ever has. Same for the firefighter who runs into a burning house, or the policeman who foils a robbery, etc. You get the idea.

But I nearly keeled over when I saw Mr. Jackson choke up in tears in the 'conversation' with Mr. Lemon and say he was "fighting for [his] life."


There are people on hospital beds right now suffering from terminal illnesses. They are fighting for their lives.

There are people in the third world who don't have access to basic sanitation, and face a very real risk of death from things like cholera, malaria, and diarrhea on a daily basis -- they are fighting for their lives.

And I'm sure there are a few citizens from Mr. Jackson's south Chicago and south-of-Chicago Congressional District who are walking point somewhere on a patrol in Oruzgan and wondering whether the adolescent boy near their platoon-mates might be wearing a suicide vest. They, too, could very soon be fighting for their lives.

Mr. Jackson, however, is wondering whether he'll continue to perform one highly-compensated job with the world's best benefits program or move up to an ever higher-prestige job with similarly phenomenal benefits. That hardly meets any thinking person's definition of 'fighting for life.'

I have no idea whether Mr. Jackson did anything nefarious in regards to the "Pay-to-Play" scandal. Based on what I've seen so far, it looks like he may in fact be completely innocent.

But does he bring the truly fresh perspective of a person who lives (or maybe even has EVER lived) outside of the cocoon that helped bring about Blago's downfall?

Based on the maudlin theatrics I just saw on CNN, I'd have to say no.

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