Saturday, January 10, 2009

Rod Blagojevich, Performance Artist

I would never disagree with Eric Kleefeld or David Kurtz about how bizarre Blagojevich's recent press conferences are. But as pathological as Blagojevich may be, he has relatively little to lose and perhaps something to gain from his shenanigans.

Consider the magnificent hole which Blagojevich has dug for himself:

1) His political career is over. It is beyond salvage.

2) At this point, he can count on the harshest legal treatment available. Every potential decision-maker involved in the case has been antagonized the full extent possible. Some are outright hostile to Blago, while others, like Patrick Fitzgerald, are merely implacable and Javert-like. In any case, Blagojevich should not expect any breaks. Quite the reverse.

3) Unlike the typical high-ranking American politician at the center of a scandal, Blagojevich is also on the brink of financial ruin. Blagojevich is a guy who tries to shake down a union for a $300,000 salary, because Blagojevich actually lives on his salary. Blagojevich doesn't have the means to retire from public life, the way a Scooter Libby or Elliot Spitzer might. He can't just head off to his country estate and live in quiet disgrace. When he loses the governor's chair, he will actually lose his primary source of income.

Factor in some extravagant upcoming legal fees, likely disbarment, and a reputation that will make him largely unemployable, and you're looking at a man who's facing financial catastrophe, whether he avoids prison or not. You can fall from grace in the public life and come back, but it's much harder in America to fall out of the middle class and come back. Blagojevich is on the verge of plunging from the upper middle class to something very like penury.

The only hope for Blagojevich's financial survival is, in fact, the media circus. It's the only business in which he might still find a profitable niche. There is ample room in American discourse for a colorful, irresponsible and self-destructive windbag: ask the folks on cable news, or talk radio. Ask some of the folks on book tour. And those people make better money than a lot of better people with better and more responsible jobs. We might be appalled by the freakshow of his press conferences, but the freakshow is Rod Blagojevich's only hope right now. He's going to be living the freakshow for the rest of his life, because it's the only place where he can make a living.

While the rest of us might focus rationally on the larger Problem #1 and Problem #2, Blagojevich is right: there's nothing to be done about those things at this point. Any efforts made to fix them are largely going to be wasted. But Problem #3 is going to be with Blago, one way or another, for the rest of his life. The press conferences make more sense when you realize that Blago isn't trying to get out of trouble. He can't get out of trouble. He's not defending himself. He's auditioning.

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