An all-too-familiar tale of political corruption

The sheer monotony of it is overwhelming. A once-popular politician turns out to be corrupt — or at least has aspirations of being so but may have been more inept than successful at it — often after promising to clean up government. Over and over again, history repeats the scenario.

This time it is the governor of the state from which the next president of the United States has been elected. Surprised? Not really considering that Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich whose mouth full of a name looks headed for the same kind of lasting infamy of three of his predecessors. That, of course, is if the U.S. government can prove in court what his own words seem to have done already — a string of illicit schemes including the sale of Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat, all designed to copper the governor’s own pockets, a longtime Chicago trait.

The good people of the "City of the big shoulders," as Carl Sandburg called it, have seen some unnerving sights along the way like the St. Valentine’s Day massacre and the continued failure, decade after decade after decade, of the Chicago Cubs. But the picture of the sitting state chief executive being hauled away from his hearth and home by the FBI must be among the most bizarre. At least those governors ahead of him who went to jail — Otto Kerner, Dan Walker, and George Ryan — were out of office when the ax fell.

But one must never forget that the land of Abraham Lincoln was also the land of Al Capone and at this juncture it would be difficult to determine which machine has been more insidiously corrupt, the political kind or the gun kind. One can only note that with the vicious, murderous beer barons of prohibition there was no public trust betrayed if one doesn’t count the Big Bill Thompson’s of the state who allowed them to operate.

Someone once asked why this behavior keeps going on and on. Is it just too easy? Are the temptations too great to resist? Does the specter of Tammany Hall still hover over American politics? Or is it all of the above? One answer might be that once such a pattern is established, it tends to be self- perpetuating. Politics, after all, is a fraternity and like a fraternity its members always seem to put the same kind of people forward. Thus, Blagojevich, like so many others of his ilk, just naturally desire to be rewarded for their efforts beyond the honor of public service no matter how that might happen.

It probably would be wrong to convict the young governor before he has had the trial that may be a while taking place. But as has been noted, he seems to have done that himself with outrageous statements made over his wire tapped telephone and bugged campaign headquarters. Furthermore, the "Mr. Clean" of American prosecutors, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, of Valerie Plame fame, is not inclined to make allegations he can’t prove.

Now the state’s Democrats, not to mention the national party, must scramble to find a way out of the appointment dilemma, perhaps a quick piece of legislation that would set up a special election before the new Congress convenes, impeachment, or the governor’s resignation, the easiest but most unlikely now. The lieutenant governor also is a Democrat.

Whatever occurs one can only hope that the rotten smell of Illinois politics does not ultimately attach itself to the president-elect and the many Chicagoans he has named to his pending administration, tarnishing the historic significance of the last election. Fitzgerald tentatively has assured us that is not the case. Obama much earlier distanced himself from the garbage-mouthed governor whose telephone conversations seemed to punctuate every thought with the "F" word.

The amazing thing is that no one ever seems to learn anything from the past. The graft always looks too easy until it isn’t, I guess.

(E-mail Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at thomassondan(at)