Under the title “This explains it”, the Sunday, February 15th Chicago Tribune reprinted from the Men’s Journal magazine a text by Bill Powell about his old friend Rod Blagojevich titled “My Best Friend Blago“. I could not find any link to this text on the Chicago Tribune website. I guess someone came to their senses and removed it, albeit after the paper left the presses.
In medieval times, the horse was the basis of the household economy; stealing horses was the most despicable act a man could do. A contemporary Polish saying speaks of a friend being so trusted that you could even go steal horses together, meaning being able to depend on this friend with the darkest nooks of your personality. You better do not befriend Bill Powell.
In his denunciation, he tells about some petty misbehavior that the former Illinois governor committed during his college years. More than likely, most of us will look with disgust at the sins of young Blagojevich, just as others would look at our sins. Unfortunately, this betraying of the old friend’s trust does not explain anything about how Blagojevich ended up as a disgraced politician.
In 2000, I had an opportunity to interview Betty Loren-Maltese, then the President of Cicero, now in prison. At that time, Betty’s days as a politician seemed numbered; she felt hunted, and refused all interview requests. I was writing for Gazeta Wyborcza, a Polish paper in Warsaw, and I got my interview. She was a little curious and felt it was safe to talk with someone writing for a foreign paper.
This interview confirmed the impression I had from reading many texts about Betty. In her heart, she is an honest person: a politician genuinely trying to do good things for her constituents. The same goes for Dan Rostenkowski, already out of prison, George Ryan, now in prison, and Rod Blagojevich, still to be determined.
In her growing up as a politician, Betty did not read Tocqueville or Founding Fathers. She observed politics as they were conducted in Cicero at that time – practically under Outfit control. She saw that real power was in money, and it was too late for her when she realized that things like the law matter as well. In her defense, one may say that she went to prison for being a passive accomplice in decisions made by her deceased husband.
Despite having a first class college education, Rod Blagojevich falls into the same category. By hanging around career politicians for most of his adult life, he realized that what he had learned from books is hollow phraseology; money and the power to play them count in real-life politics. Seeing what was going on, he took it to be the norm. Considering himself as an honest and well-intentioned politician, he felt it was obvious that the more money and political power he gains, the better it would be for his constituents. Had he cared only for the well-being of his family, he would have played it safe, just as everybody else in politics. However, he had big ambitions, so he played the system to its limits, put the guards down, and the system spit him out.
We can identify the same traits in the demise of Betty Loren-Maltese, Dan Rostenkowski, and George Ryan. The system is corrupt, and corrupts many talented and well-intentioned politicians, such as Rod Blagojevich. Knowing Blago intimately, Bill Powell had a chance to tell us something important about how it happens that decent people can be so easily depraved by going into politics. It is sad that in the weakest moment of his old friend’s life, he ended up selling for cheap the little intimate information about Blago he had.
It is even sadder that the Chicago Tribune reprinted this text, once again confirming my observation that its editors do not seek intellectual reflection, but rather want to feed readers easy-to-read petty dirt.
A version of this text was published by Huffington Post