As the former governor of Illinois crisscrossed the country on his farewell tour, I kept imagining him lying back in his seat, scalp being massaged by his personal hairstylist (it takes work to keep that Serbian gangster hairdo in pristine shape), while an old Mac Davis song played on an endless loop on his iPod:
O Lord, it’s hard to be humble
When you’re perfect in every way
I can’t wait to look in the mirror
’cause I get better looking each day
“Here, Bobby, hold that mirror up. I gotta work on my smile. Those gals on The View are gonna fall for my eyes.”
And fall they did. Once Hot Rod’s hand was on her knee, Whoopi Goldberg could feel his pain. A colored man just can’t get a break in the white man’s world.
In the end, though, it was Blagojevich who fell the hardest, but that wasn’t his fault, either. Turns out that federal district attorney Patrick Fitzgerald is a regular Mr. Potter, trying to keep Milorad Bailey from helping the people of Illinois live a wonderful life. On January 23, he explained it all to WLS’s Don Wade and Roma:
You know those old black and white movies from the 30’s and the 40’s with Jimmy Stewart and Gary Cooper? Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and It Happened One Night and Meet John Doe and the other one is Mr. Deeds Goes to Town? How the good guy was up against the establishment, and yet they tried to make him look like he had violated rules, but he stood firm for the people because he was trying to help people in all of those movies. . . .
That’s what my story is. It’s a Frank Capra movie.
In this 21st-century remake of It’s a Wonderful Life, the score, of course, is also by Mac Davis.
Some folks say that I’m egotistical.
Hell, I don’t even know what that means.
I guess it has something to do with the way that I
fill out my skin-tight blue jeans.
With his leather bomber jacket, those blue jeans were Governor Blagojevich’s business suit. (Business casual was sweats and running shoes.) Some might find that a bit down-market for the governor of the sixth-largest state in the Union, but those jeans are the uniform of the working man, and Rod Blagojevich is nothing if not true to his roots.
That’s why he voted for Ronald Reagan (twice!), he told Chicago’s morning commuters, but as a working-class Democrat
I like to see myself more as a Teddy Roosevelt kind of Republican than Richard Nixon. The guy who’s fightin’ for the average guy. And willing to, you know, be in the arena and have his face marred by dust and sweat and blood—strive valiantly and err and come short again and again. Because there is not effort without error and shortcoming, but who actually strives to do the deed.
With such a mastery of syntax, is it any wonder that, in conversations taped by federal investigators just days before his arrest and indictment, Governor Blagojevich still thought he might one day rise to the office then occupied by George W. Bush?
And who knows? He might have, if not for the treacherous Potter—er, Patrick—Fitzgerald. But once the arrest and the indictment came down, the Illinois House finally did the right thing and impeached the governor. At that point, he had only two choices: Return to his ancestral homeland and get lost in the mountains of Montenegro, or go down fighting.
He chose to fight, but in his own special way. Where a lesser man might actually have shown up for his impeachment trial and attempted to mount a credible defense, this son of an immigrant steel-mill worker went on every TV and radio talk show that would have him and defended himself against charges no one had leveled.
Democrats hated him because they wanted to raise taxes, and he wouldn’t let them; Republicans hated him because they wanted the Democrats to raise taxes so they could campaign on the issue. Everybody hated him because he, like Mother Teresa, cared for the sick and the poor, especially children. But they were all so corrupt that they would hate Mother Teresa, too, as he revealed on the Today Show: “You can conceivably bring in 15 angels and 20 saints led by Mother Teresa to come in to testify to my good character, to my integrity and all the rest. It wouldn’t matter.” (Why a Serb would want to be defended by an Albanian was a question that, sadly, nobody asked.)
When he finally arrived in Springfield (a rare event in his two terms as governor) and deigned to make an appearance at his own impeachment trial, his long-winded defense could be summed up in two lines: “To know me is to love me. / I must be a hell of a man.”
Well, he was half right. So long, Hot Rod, and thanks for the nine-billion-dollar deficit.
This article first appeared in the April 2009 issue of Chronicles: A Magazine or American Culture.