For a dozen years – 1969 to 1981 – I covered Illinois politics as a reporter, columnist and photographer for The Alton Telegraph, a daily newspaper in the downstate portion of the Land of Lincoln.
I wrote about Paul Powell, the Illinois Secretary of State who died with more than 800 grand in cash stuffed in shoeboxes of his hotel room in Springfield, the state capital. I covered the antics of Dan Walker, the maverick Democrat who walked the length of the state as a campaign gimmick while promising to clean up the corrupt government of Illinois. He later went to jail for fraud.
There was Otto Kerner, the former governor who became the first federal judge sent to prison for corruption.
Shortly after arriving in Illinois, I sat in a bar with Mike Royko, the legendary Chicago columnist who knew more about that city’s politics than anyone, and we talked about corruption in the state.
"In Illinois you’ve got two kinds of pols," Royko said. "The actively corrupt and the passively corrupt. The actives take the bribes while the passives look the other way when the bribes are taken."
Current Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is a classic, actively corrupt Illinois politician. President-elect Barack Obama is, at best, passively corrupt because he and other Illinois political leaders looked the other way and did nothing while Blago operated his "pay to play" scheme and they sat passively and allowed this crook to remain governor for a second term.
So far, Obama’s response to the rapidly-developing scandal of Blago bartering Obama’s Senate seat to the highest bidder has been tepid at best. The first day of the response was a milquetoast statement by an aide that "urged" the Illinois governor to resign. The second day response by Obama himself showed little emotion or anger over the corruption from Illinois. This time he said he "hoped" the governor would step down while promising a quick probe to see which aides talked to Blago’s office and what, if any, involvement they may have had in the selling of the seat.
This is not the "transparency" that Obama has promised to the American people. His response is more like the careful, watch-your-words response we’ve seen in the past from George W. Bush.
In other words, politics as usual.
If Obama did not know Blago was corrupt, he’s the dumbest politician to come out of the Windy City in a long, long time. If he did – and the odds say he did – know the level of corruption operating out of the governor’s mansion then he was – at best – another passive bystander who looked the other way in the "business as usual" style of Illinois politics.
Obama has a disturbing habit of hanging around shady characters and claiming he didn’t know they were dirty:
- Tony Rezko, the fundraiser who pumped money into Obama’s campaign, helped him buy a house and now faces prison for his involvement in a kickback scheme that also involved the Illinois governor;
- Emil Jones, the President of the Illinois Senate and Obama’s political godfather, is also a pay to play politician to steered government contracts to friends and family and blocked ethics legislation in the state house. This did not stop Obama from calling Jones a "passionate advocate who has fought for working families and the underprivileged."
- Plus Jeremiah Wright, William Ayers, et. al.
Barack Obama may yet turn out to be the knight in shining armor that America thought it elected in November. Or he may just turn out to be yet another smooth talking Chicago politician who sounds too good to be true because that’s exactly what he is.
In Washington, they say "money talks and bullshit walks."
And things are starting to smell.