The age-old question of Chicago politics has always been, "Where's mine?" As in, "You got yours, now I want mine."
For Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich the answer came when Barack Obama was elected president and his vacant Senate seat was Blagojevich's exclusively to fill. "(Expletive) golden," as the governor quickly and alertly saw. "I'm just not giving it up for (expletive) nothing."
As they do in the financial markets - and, as it has turned out, with no better success than Blagojevich - the governor set out to price his asset. Unfortunately, the feds were listening in as he set out brazenly and profanely to ease his departure from office with a large cushion of moolah.
U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said the governor had "taken the state to a new low." The prosecutor's dewy-eyed view of Illinois can be excused because he's a relative newcomer to the state. Illinois governors take the oath of office with their hand on a subpoena and report to prison with alarming regularity. Blagojevich's predecessor is there now, serving six years on corruption charges.
The prosecutors were said to be "shocked" and "stunned" by his conduct. But let's not rush to judgment here. Blagojevich thought a fair price would be a $250,000 to $300,000 a year job for himself and a board seat, paying $150,000, for his wife, Patti, who turns out to have quite a potty mouth of her own.
The federal government is hurting for cash and we have 100 of these Senate seats to sell, 535 if you count the House of Representatives. Calm down. The Romans did it and they had a good long run, maybe longer than ours will be, and after the past eight years, how much worse could we do?
Blagojevich said if he couldn't sell the Senate seat he might "parachute" into it himself - the kind of selfless altruism we like to see in our public servants.
We fiscal watchdogs are not the only ones to see a silver lining in the Blagojevich bust. There was no kinky sex involved - at least as far as we know - and one woman said it was nice to have a scandal with the kind of reprehensible, dishonest conduct you can talk about with your kids.
And in these dark days of the newspaper business, when papers are unread and jobs insecure, it turns out that the governor was a devoted reader of the Chicago Tribune and was especially attentive to the editorial page and its writers, a breed among whom I am a member. "Fire all those (expletive) people, get 'em the (expletive) out of there," he said in a tirade that boosted the sagging spirits of editorial writers everywhere.
The governor dispatched an emissary with the threat to pull the plug on a deal that would save the Tribune company a lot of money if the paper didn't fire deputy editorial page editor John McCormick, apparently with no result because McCormick and his editors said nobody ever said anything to them.
But this is absolutely great for McCormick. To jeopardize $100 million of your owners' money plus have a corrupt politician try to get you fired - that's better than a Pulitzer. The man will be drinking for free wherever editorial writers gather and his job is untouchable.
Dale McFeatters is a columnist and editorial writer for Scripps Howard News Service. Contact him at McFeattersD@SHNS.com.