Thursday, August 8, 2019

Flashback 2011: If only Rod read different Kipling

     There is fellowship among criminals. Each knows what they themselves are guilty of, and so harbors sympathy for those unfortunate enough to get caught. So of course Donald Trump, with God knows how many crimes and misdemeanors staining his soul, would look kindly upon former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich his brother-in-arms.    Thursday morning we awoke to reports that Trump is "very strongly" considering pardoning Blagojevich, seven years into his 14 year prison sentence for corruption. Expect it to happen, and soon. 
      That is actually good news, of a sort. By commuting his sentence, instead of pardoning him, that means Blagojevich probably won't be able to run for governor again. Heck, given the public's demonstrated taste for mendacious egomaniacs without the capacity for reflection, Blagojevich would probably win.
      The bad news is he will still be twirling in the limelight he adores, quoting Kipling, playing the martyr, Christ and Martin Luther King rolled into one. Don't expect him to merely fade away, like Mel Reynolds. Before he went into the big house, I mused on his cotton puff of a soul. If we are going to have to endure him again, a refresher course is in order.

     My God, the man quoted Kipling.
     If anybody doubted whether Rod Blagojevich, our disgraced former governor, could really come through his self-imposed ordeal unchanged, if they doubted that, despite the arrest, the two trials, the 18 convictions, the harsh 14-year sentence, Blago could really remain the same self-pitying egomaniac he was at the start, all they had to do was see him pause before the media, which has been forced to record his every pompous, blown-dried word, to invoke his favorite bard.
     "Rudyard Kipling, in his poem 'If,' among the things he wrote, was: 'If you can meet with triumph and disaster,' " Blagojevich intoned, as he left court Wednesday, " 'and treat those two imposters just the same.' "
     Again with the Kipling. Again with "If," which Blago has memorized and quoted at moments of difficulty throughout his tenure.
     "If you can keep your head when all about you/Are losing theirs and blaming it on you," he recited, three years ago, when he was still proclaiming his innocence and beginning the oblivious twirl in the limelight that no doubt earned him many extra years in the clink.
     More Kipling. Thanks for the life lesson, governor. Kipling is not just the bard of British imperialism, but has become the poster boy for conceited self-delusion. Blago seems to think he's fighting off the Zulus at Rorke's Drift, one brave man facing hostile hordes.
     That's not the tone he took when begging Judge James Zagel for mercy. But I have no doubt that the Blagojevich we'll see during the appeals process, or later in frequent jailhouse interviews (where he is certain to invoke Thoreau and Nelson Mandela), will be filled with injured self-pity and Gunga Din. To cope with that, we must keep our gaze locked on what, specifically, Blagojevich did wrong. When Barack Obama resigned his Senate seat to become president, it was the job of the governor to select a new senator. It is a big responsibility; a senator is a state's key advocate in Washington, determining how much federal money comes back to fund programs that millions rely on. I believe that any random Illinoisan, any housewife, cabdriver or busboy would instantly recognize the gravity of the task, and 99.9 percent would have acted accordingly.
     Not Blago. He viewed this as an opportunity to profit, period. "I want to make money," he said. That was the beginning and end of the calculation. That isn't "horse-trading," that's barratry, the selling of an office. Not just a crime but a sin.
     Were I the judge, I'd have given him less time in prison, because he is a pathetic figure, a lost soul, cut off from self knowledge. Even the Kipling he professes to admire could have saved him. Let's go back to "If:"

      If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you 
      But make allowance for their doubting too.

     What allowance did Blagojevich make? What allowance has Blago's father-in-law Dick Mell made, for that matter, that he can dare contemplate "the appointment of a political protege, possibly his daughter, state Rep. Deb Mell," as the Sun-Times has said, to his aldermanic seat? Gee Dick, haven't you inflicted enough relatives on us for one career?
     Kipling wasn't just an imperialist taking up "the white man's burden." He had depth—he despised corruption, for instance, and would have loathed our governor. I'd like to quote some Kipling far more apt than "If" to this sad case. "General Summary" begins:

          We are very slightly changed
          From the semi-apes who ranged
          India's prehistoric clay.

     And ends:

          Who shall doubt the 'secret hid'
          Under Cheops' pyramid
          Was that the contractor did
          Cheops out of several millions?
          Or that Joseph's sudden rise
          To Comptroller of Supplies
          Was a fraud of monstrous size
          On King Pharaoh's swart Civilians?
          Thus, the artless songs I sing
          Do not deal with anything
          New or never said before.
          As it was in the beginning
          Is today official sinning,
          And shall be for evermore.

      Kipling was a 21-year-old reporter when he wrote that in 1886. Alas, it holds up well.

                     —Originally published in the Sun-Times, Dec. 9, 2011


  1. I have a placard in my office. It says “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing clearly have failed to understand the seriousness of your situation.”

    I consider this my personal motto

  2. "If" is a fairly awful poem, but Kipling did indeed have depth, and was a wonderful lyricist. I don't care much if Blago is pardoned, but hate to see Trump putting his own, self-referencing, spin on the case.


  3. Keep close watch as this trial balloon from the Cowardly Liar surely conceals some ulterior motive. Meanwhile his children wait with aching hearts and his wife with tortured knees to be delivered from Rod's purgatory.

  4. I wonder if I'll find Stalky & Company and Soldiers Three as engaging as I did 60 years ago. Just purchased all Kipling wrote for $1.99 to find out.


  5. I hate myself for having voted for this bastard twice. Even though I'd met Judy Baar Topinka personally and immensely respected her, I voted for Blago because I was afraid that Topinka's much-vaunted "frugality" was a euphemism for typical Republican bitching over every dime that goes to help non-rich people.

    Lesson learned: In politics, ideology doesn't always trump character.

    1. I voted for Vallas in the primary and Topinka in the election, mostly because I'd met her and my brother worked for her. I was more shocked and outraged at her loss than I was at Hillary's. Plus, I could never forgive Blago for proclaiming, "No new taxes," while introducing "Take me out to the Ball Game" in the 7th inning of a Cubs game -- that should have gotten him an additional 7 years at least.

  6. Blagojamoke was the moron who proposed tearing down Cole Hall after the NIU shootings and spending forty million to build some hideous monstrosity that included one of those memorial monuments they used to build to honor the working-class heroes and martyrs in East Germany during the Cold War. Luckily, the university and the community and the rest of the state hooted him down almost immediately. "Time heals, not bulldozers..." one wrote. "Tear Blago down!" wrote another. In the end, this loser tore himself down.

    Kipling wrote extensively about both San Francisco and Chicago in "American Notes" (1891)--the chronicle of his west-to-east travels across the U.S and Canada during 1889. He said very little that was positive about either place, generally disdained America, and dismissed Chicagoans as "savages"--so after reading his quite derogatory travel book as a youngster, I really had no further desire to kipple.

  7. Yes, Blago was a nefarious politician — like many — but I always felt his sentence was excessive considering what other politicians had done and the sentences they received or never received! Interesting to read an excerpt from “The 12 Most Corrupt Public Officials In Illinois History: Paul Powell” at It talks about Paul Powell when there was no Secretary of State office in the 50s and motorists wrote checks directly to him. You can imagine where some of those checks were going. Powell was never convicted but after his death thousands of dollars were found in shoeboxes in his hotel room. I still recall hearing about that when I was just an innocent grade school kid — made a big impact on me learning about dishonesty in the politicians we elect.


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