One very unintended side effect of Barak Obama's election has been the national attention Illinois is getting about the sorry state of our politics and politicians.
It was kismet last night that I accidentally switched on CSPAN just as Roland Burris was beginning his speech yesterday at Chicago's City Club. They weren't showing it live, but at the stroke of midnight.
Like the train wreck it was, I couldn’t look away.
If Rod Blagojevich is an extreme example of the type, RoRo "The Real Roland" Burris is more typical, a mediocre hack politician and what passes, in Illinois, for an honest one. The room was full of them. Sweet Eddie Burke introduced Burris and Mean Paul Green was the MC. RoRo did some shout-outs. It was a real rogue’s gallery.
Burris had this bad speech, which he read badly, about what he has "learned" in his five weeks in the Senate. About two-thirds in he went off-notes, launched into some spirited shout-outs, hit a couple of his mausoleum highlights, then launched into his self-defense, all in the old black preacher-politician cadences of the sixties. As he always does these days, he invoked his civil rights era bona fides, seemingly unaware that they are not protecting him and he is debasing those accomplishments by using them in this tawdry affair.
"You know the real Roland." That was a good laugh line, but this one was better. "I will continue to be transparent." He is all of that.
May I suggest, to paraphrase Denny Green: "I am who I thought I was."
It was pitiful.
Then as a kind of coda, he went back to reading, poorly, his prepared speech, even though it continued along the self-defense lines. He said he would no longer discuss the controversy surrounding his appointment with reporters.
After that came the Q&A, audience questions read by Paul Green. It was funny because Green just dropped in questions about RoRo’s "issues," sprinkled in among the bland inquiries about public policy, ending it with one that Burris refused to answer.
Burris is in over his head. His colleague, Senator Durbin, on a fact-finding trip to Greece and Turkey, and after consulting the Oracle of Delphi, made a short statement. In it, he urged Burris to get some professional advice, as Burris is so clueless.
Things are breaking bad for Durbin too, when he should be giddy as the new president's main man in the Senate. Instead, Burris has become Durbin's special ball and chain.
Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (my U.S. Rep) is another one. Now she has some hair-brained idea that new Gov. Quinn can pull Burris and call a special election under the 17th Amendment. She wants the Senate job herself, but shouldn't, as the spotlight will spin onto her and she will have to talk about her convicted felon husband.
They're all from the same nest and considered good government types by Illinois standards, so they're genuinely surprised by how unflattering the national spotlight can be.
My fondest hope is that Durbin, Schakowsky, and every other Illinois office holder (yes, you, Heather) will feel that their jobs are in jeopardy and they need to take extraordinary steps to gain the public’s trust. ("Re-gain" seems to assume too much.)
I propose a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Isn't confession supposed to be cleansing or healing or something? Who wants to go first?