Gov. Rod Blagojevich just upped his “thug” credentials even more with the appointment of former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris for Barack Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat.
Burris, 71, the first black ever elected to statewide office in Illinois, shouldn’t have accepted the appointment. And the U.S. Senate should not seat him, as Democratic leaders threatened would happen concerning anyone Blagojevich picks. On Tuesday, the Senate refused to seat Burris before backing down on Wednesday, only considering allowing his appointment to go through. Some of Burris’ supporters hinted or said outright that he is not being seated because of his race. That view was wrong-headed and was in no way applicable to this situation.
Not seating Burris is also not “the first big civil rights challenge of 2009” as I read in an e-mail Tuesday morning from the editor of a South Side community newspaper. First and foremost, let’s understand Blagojevich’s political play with the appointment. He is purposely trying to stoke “race politics” and using it as a distraction to his scandal. And he’s succeeding, aided by what I can only call a group of misguided and completely shortsighted Burris supporters.
Making such an appointment is just the latest example of Blago pulling a “razzle-dazzle,” or a stunt, to distract and manipulate the public when he’s under fire. But this move is much worse, and it’s already having the desired effect. In warning the media over its coverage of Burris, Rep. Bobby Rush, who supports Burris, said at a press conference last week: “I would ask you not to hang or lynch the appointee as you castigate the appointer.”
I’m all for blunt talk but that statement did nothing but offer up a silly and useless sound-bite. It was also a false statement historically and intellectually. Criticizing a black person, fairly or unfairly, is not a lynching or anything close to it. Some of our elders are sometimes quick to chastise younger generations for not knowing their history, but are also prone to mangling our history to make meaningless political points. Rush was correct with his overall point, but hyperbole is the device of a “non-thinking” person.
Rush also said Democratic U.S. Senate leaders should fear being compared to racist politicians like George Wallace and Bull Conner-men who staunchly supported segregation-by not accepting Burris’ appointment. That is a ridiculous statement and plain-old race-bating. Now, when white folks do that stuff, blacks call them out on it, and rightfully so. But when the shoe is on the other foot … well, old shoes tend to stink no matter who wears them.
Meanwhile, our governor is somewhere smirking. Rush and the handful of black activists rushing to support the former attorney general are following Blago’s script perfectly. Burris is more than qualified for the U.S. Senate or any other high office. He also doesn’t have a scandalous chink on his impressive and honorable political armor. But all that is irrelevant to Blago, who has caused the schism and sideshow he was looking for.
The governor reportedly offered the appointment to other black politicians currently in office, but who turned him down, before choosing Burris, who was retired from politics. U.S. Rep. Danny Davis was among those who said no. He was right and smart to do so. But any black politician would have sufficed for the governor. Blago is surely pleased with this unnecessary ruckus and Rush’s thoughtless comments were probably music to his ears. Rush, Burris and others can’t see this appointment for what it is-another Blagojevich con job?
Under any other circumstance, I could understand their thinking. Many of them fought for civil rights and still do. They know how important it is for blacks to have political power, and they’re right that there should be more blacks in the U.S. Senate. But these black leaders are allowing themselves to be “played” by the governor in order to get someone, anyone, black in the Senate. Did it ever occur to them to hold their cards and not throw Blagojevich any kind of life line?
Once he’s impeached, which will happen much sooner than later, Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, who’s known as a political maverick and staunch supporter of diversity, will make the selection. They can then saber-rattle all they want to “Gov.” Quinn once Blago is gone. There is no rush to appoint anyone given the corruption investigation against him, and Blago knows it. Some of these black leaders apparently don’t or can’t see it. If no one accepts it, he doesn’t have the power to appoint anyone.
But no. Why play real hardball politics with a mortally-wounded governor to get what you want when there are rallies, protests and press conferences to hold?