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Illinois governor commits truth: What now?

By Michael M. Bates
web posted February 6, 2006

From his boyish bangs to his dressed-for-success wingtips, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is a liar, a man whose word is meaningless. That's not remarkable for a politician. What's noteworthy is that Rod himself is the one saying his political rhetoric can't be believed.

Illinois Governor Rod BlagojevichBlagojevich has been sued by several former state employees who thought that he was sincere in his campaign promises. Specifically, they bought his seeming pledge four years ago that good workers need not fear losing their state jobs only to have them filled with Blagojevich lackeys.

Yet some prison officials, Republicans and Democrats alike, found themselves unemployed. When they sued, reported the Chicago Tribune on January 30, the governor's lawyers made an astonishingly candid argument. They claimed that Blagojevich's promise wasn't binding. It had been nothing more than "classic political puffery."

Illinois voters this election year will be in a quandary. As Rod runs around the state making promises all over the place, how can they know which ones are genuine and which ones are merely classic political puffery?

He had an opportunity to set things straight last month when he delivered his state of the state address. After guaranteeing, among other things, the creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs, better roads and public transportation, providing all veterans with health care, a $1,000 tax credit for every student in college, a new prison and treatment center tailored for meth addicts, and a $500 tax rebate on fuel-efficient cars, he could have wrapped it all up by saying, "Just joking!"

Of course, he wouldn't do that. It's not politically expedient. And Blagojevich is all about electability. He's a blow dried, poll driven, photo op ready, pre-packaged political creation.

He doesn't even use his real name. It's not, as you may have thought, Rod or Rodney. It's Milorad, but he set that aside years ago. Perhaps it's just as well. We'd get mighty tired of seeing "Milorad R. Blagojevich, Governor" on all those highway billboards, posters, press releases, Web sites, refrigerator magnets and notices that Illinois mandates insurance coverage of prescription birth control. "Rod R. Blagojevich" just flows so much more smoothly. And looks so much better on a ballot.

Milorad – make that Rod - has left his stamp on Illinois. Hoping to use Springfield as a springboard to the White House, he'll say anything to be reelected. We can expect even more promises than he delivered four years ago. Remember when Mr. Keno said that gambling was addictive and he wouldn't do anything to expand it? That he'd be a reformer cleaning up the mess left by George Ryan and ending politics as usual? That he'd attract many new businesses and jobs to the state?

Rod didn't deliver on any of those pledges. He did, however, figure out how to spend $720,000 on a heated driveway at the Governor's mansion. You know, that place he drops by every so often.

And he's managed to find some new and innovative ways to employ his armed state police bodyguards. Rod has used them to carry his family's luggage, to hand out Halloween candy and even to maintain custody of that holiest of holies, Rod's hairbrush.

Not that he hasn't acted on some matters. He's signed legislation on gay rights, a higher minimum wage and public breastfeeding and taken the lead on that most pressing of matters, violent video games. I don't remember him talking much about those issues four years ago, but perhaps he did on days that weren't devoted to classic political puffery.

This year, prudent voters will be well advised to presume that nothing he says is binding. Much of the time, that'll also be true of his opponents. The difference is they don't use their prevaricating as a legal defense in federal court.

There's a story, possibly apocryphal, of President Harry Truman campaigning on an Indian reservation. Each promise he made to the Native American audience was met with enthusiastic cries of "Oompah! Oompah!" The response invigorated the then underdog and gave him a much needed charge of optimism.

That was until he was leaving and had to walk through a corral filled with ponies. Be careful, his escort warned. Don't step in the oompah.

If during this campaign Blagojevich encounters voters yelling "Oompah! Oompah!" at him, he'll know they're acquainted with his stylized form of classic political puffery. He'll need every bit of "testicular virility," as he's called it, that he can muster.

Mike Bates is the author of Right Angles and Other Obstinate Truths. This essay originally appeared in the February 2, 2006 Oak Lawn Reporter.

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