In the pages of LewRockwell.com almost ten years ago, I penned a defense of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich (here, here, and here). They were exclusives written for LRC after watching USA v Blagojevich at the federal courthouse in Chicago that summer 2010.
Blagojevich is “a politician with whom I shared little common political or philosophical ground,” as I pointed out in The Hill five years ago, yet growing up in the midst of the ever-present corruption of Chicago, the scapegoating of Blagojevich has never sat well with me.
At the root of this is the principle that “Justice unevenly doled out is injustice.”
Republicans (see here and here) Democrats (see here) have united in criticizing the pay-to-play politics of Illinois, calling the February 18, 2020 commutation of Blagojevich’s sentence a bad decision by Donald Trump. That bipartisanship is not worth much, since In Illinois party divide means even less than it does nationally. The crooks cross the tribal divide with ease.
Some critics are right – Illinois is an awful place in many regards. Chicago’s, once localized, corrupt political machines have come to control the apparatus of the entire state and have played a key role in looting and destroying the state. 101 counties in the state have credible reason for wanting to secede and to leave Chicago and Cook County with the debt that its awful policies have created.
Rod Blagojevich made a career in the midst of this disgusting political environment. He came in young, married into a dynasty, played the game with charisma.
The obsessive focus on Blagojevich has done little to improve Illinois. Just the opposite.
The First Jury Wouldn’t Convict
Though the first time around, federal prosecutors were only able to convict Blagojevich on one of 24 counts – an incredibly minor count, one that shouldn’t even be a law, since lying to the government violates the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination – he’s seen by many as an egregious violator of the law, a bit of a joke regarding how bad and public the corruption has become, and one who many in Illinois felt needed to see the inside of a prison cell, just as badly as many across the country feel Hillary Clinton needs to see the inside of a prison cell today.
Once Blago became governor, he forgot some of the kingmakers who put him there. Accounts from the time describe a man who became a little more interested in himself and a little less interested in the rest of the thieves in the state. It doesn’t seem like any of them were that concerned with the people of Illinois. They were each busy in their own hustle. But a few of the thieves got pretty mad that Blago wasn’t as approachable to the thieves as he used to be.
Eventually his own father-in-law, 33rd Ward Alderman Dick Mell, his rabbi and protector, turned on him. And then Blagojevich was fair game.
Blago probably deserved to see the inside of a jail cell, but so did many others in Illinois far more egregious than him. And they didn’t. Blago became a figurehead. He became a scapegoat.
Why You Don’t Want A Scapegoat Defendant
A problem here is that guilt is not collective. Guilt is individual.
Scapegoat is our English term for the animal described in Leviticus 16 that was led out into the wilderness after the Chief Priest put the sins of the people of Israel on it.
Christianity lets us place our sins on Jesus on the cross. There are religious and secular ways that many engage in scapegoating. It can feel beautiful and freeing to be ritualistically cleansed of your sins.
Orwell writes about the Two Minutes Hate in the society described in 1984. The Two Minutes Hate might help many people feel better as they release stress and place anger into their image of an individual. And, while Orwell was clearly not trying to praise the notion, such an act may have ritualistic value as well.
But that is not moral justification for how to behave toward another human. There is only one Jesus Christ and Rod Blagojevich is not him. It is not honest to let someone like Blagojevich go to jail, so that the Chicago political class with the aid of their friends and useful idiots in the media, can spend the next decade pointing their fingers at how bad Blagojevich is while looting at an increasing rate. Those who participated in the Two Minutes Hate against Blago have been useful pawns in the looting of Illinois.
Little has changed in the trajectory of Illinois in the last ten years. Relative to neighboring states, it’s actually gotten worse in Illinois.
The jailing of Blagojevich predictably changed nothing. The creation of a scapegoat predictably changed nothing. Federal prosecutors, and federal laws, were used as a tool to distract so that business as usual was able to continue. Obama and his team in DC made sure of it.
Predictably, the socialism offered by both the Republicans and Democrats is failing the people of Illinois. Predictably, democracy is failing the people of Illinois. Predictably, the act of placing power in the hands of local party bosses is failing the people of Illinois. Predictably, the mistaken belief that government can provide salvation is failing the people of Illinois.
The Winning Path Forward
Ten years later, the winning path forward for Illinois remains the same – eliminate all taxes, slash the state budget to zero.
Watch the corrupt politicians run along when they suddenly have no gifts to hand out.
Move the assets of the politicians’ pension plans to the state worker pension plans. Notify the state workers in Illinois that their pension plans have been mismanaged for decades, are nearly bankrupt, and that they can either collect their $0.04 on the dollar payout now or to wait and see what happens to their pension plan when it’s turned over to a private trustee. Some connected guy’s cousin who ended up with four state pensions should be very happy to get his $0.16 on the dollar.
Notify bondholders that the state is hereby defaulting on all loans.
Publicly auction off all assets online in full public view. Everything. The sooner those assets get out of the corrupt hands that control the state government, the better. The assets will ultimately end up in the hands of people who know what to do with them and how to manage them profitably to provide well for consumers.
Following that path, the economy that rises from the ashes of the State of Illinois will be the premier economy globally over the next one hundred years.
Following that path, only a few economies would be able to jump ahead of Illinois’s radical commitment to prosperity. But they likely won’t.
The other option is to spend the next decade or two lying to people and slowly controlling the collapse of the Illinois government for the financial benefit and reputational benefit of the bureaucrats and politicians overseeing the process.
One option will work out very well for the people of Illinois. The other will work out terribly for everyone but the most connected. Sure, the shock of it all – the shock of ripping the 80 pound leach from your back that promises to slowly kill you and to then turn on your children once you’re sucked dry – yes, it could be a challenge. Since when has “challenge” been a good reason to avoid doing the right thing?
Maybe in this ensuing process individual guilt is determined, individual punishment given, and maybe justice is doled out evenly to all involved.
When all is said and done, maybe a few of those other lowlifes end up at the same prison Blagojevich spent nearly eight years in.
Though, based on the number of people who saw the inside of a jail cell, after a crooked Chicago politician entered the Oval Office and promised to see justice done in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, I wouldn’t hold my breath.
And that’s probably okay. Once every person in Illinois has wrestled that 80 pound leach off of their back, they’ll probably be less eager to point at the 80 pound leach on some other guy’s back and say “Hey, that leach should be in jail!” The leaches will all be gone.
Dry up the tax funding, the government slush funds disappear. Dry up the government slush funds, the leaches disappear.
Every kid who grew up in Chicago knows this. We are expert observers of it. You grow up around it, and it’s all second nature. The millennials see how smartphones work from birth. We see how graft works from birth.
Put an 80 pound leach or two in jail, nothing will happen. You can’t drain a swamp that way. The next leach will just take their place.
The last ten years have a lesson to teach us about how the next ten years should look for maximum prosperity.
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