Springfield, Ill. — Rod Blagojevich’s tragic reign as governor of Illinois came to a spectacular and stirring end here Thursday in a day filled with one historical moment after another.
Tragic? Yes, in the sense that Blagojevich is a truly gifted man with corresponding truly enormous flaws.
You saw his late-morning closing argument, right? It was a brilliant speech, as far as it went. Passionate. Eloquent. Even moving in places.
Viewers across America just tuning in to our little melodrama might well have wondered why the General Assembly and Illinois punditocracy were so strongly arrayed against this impressive, earnest, caring governor.
He merely pushed a little too hard in a selfless effort to help working people! And look where it got him!
The rest of us merely wondered what might have been, what he could have accomplished, where he could have taken this state and himself if only he’d realized his promise instead of squandering it.
And we noted the telltale brevity of Blagojevich’s remarks.
The senators granted him 90 minutes to plead his case. He wrapped up after just 47 minutes, leaving, in effect, 43 minutes of silence about some of the most damning allegations against him.
All during his recent media blitz Blagojevich stressed the necessity for the public to hear the “whole story,” not just snippets, and to put everything he’d said and done into context.
A guy who speaks as rapidly as Blagojevich can fit a lot of narrative and a lot of context into 43 minutes. Yet he conspicuously took a pass.
He brushed off as “unproven” all but one of the charges in the federal criminal complaint against him. The one he did address briefly was the one dealing with the wiretap recordings played Tuesday in the Senate chamber.
“Those four tapes speak for themselves,” he said.
Yes, in fact, they do. They appear to show a governor orchestrating the exchange of a sizable campaign contribution for his signature on a bill.
Now, there might be an innocent explanation for the words heard on those tapes. Blagojevich had plenty of time to offer not only that explanation, but explanations as to why other tapes — tapes not played in the Senate — appear to show him strong-arming a children’s hospital and Tribune Co., and trying to peddle a U.S. Senate seat for personal gain.
He had 43 minutes to tell the world point by point why the feds have it all wrong when they accuse him of the misdeeds included in the article of impeachment.
He offered 43 minutes of silence instead. Think about that if you’re tempted by the idea that Blagojevich didn’t get a chance to tell his side of the story.
One last thing before I go.
As gripping as this was — as fascinating, profound, unusual and, yes, tragic — it will all be just a lot of harum-scarum unless it marks a real turning point in Illinois politics.
A number of senators rose to make this point during their short speeches before voting unanimously to remove Blagojevich from office. And as naive as it sounds, it bears repeating.
We’ve chased from the stage one notably imperfect politician with tragic flaws so glaring we couldn’t endure him for even one more act.
That was the easy part.
Making sure we never have a repeat performance will be the hard part.