John Matlin of London writes this Guest Blog for Enduring America:
"Had the media of today been around in 1934, one wonders if Harry Truman would have been allowed to get out of Union Station to take his seat in the US Senate. As is usual in America these days, Blagojevich has to go through trial by the media."
No sooner has one of Illinois’ favourite sons been elected to the White House, than another has got himself into serious hot water. Governor Rod Blagojevich has been arrested for allegedly seeking to sell Barack Obama’s seat in the U. S. Senate.
The press is now full of horror stories about corruption in Illinois. It cites the statistic that 469 Illinois politicians were found guilty of corruption between 1994 and 2004, though without either details of the illegal activities or an explanation of the relevance of those dates. “Daley” rears its ugly head again, bringing back images of the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago and the evil that a political machine can do --- obscuring that the current Mayor Daley runs an efficient and apparently corruption-free machine.
Before we all run shrieking from our exposure to alleged corruption, shouting “shock, horror”, it is worth remembering that the appointment to a vacancy in the US Senate is within the gift of the governor of the relevant state. Patronage has always been a strong element in American politics, as far back as Andrew Jackson’s days. Furthermore, the 1976 Supreme Court ruling in Elrod v Burns recognised that the practice of patronage was lawful in given circumstances, defining it as “the allocation of discretionary favours of government in exchange for political support”.
The Governor of Illinois should not be judged based solely on statements provided to the press by the FBI and the Illinois District Attorney, nor should his predecessor’s conviction for fraud be considered guilt by association. There needs to be proof before an Illinois jury that Blagojevich was seeking personal financial reward, not political gain.
Whoever is appointed to the vacant Illinois seat, he or she may now have a very difficult ride, regardless of reputation for honesty. However, this is not the first time that a Senatorial appointment has been greeted with scorn. In 1934, future President Harry Truman won a hotly disputed and undoubtedly corrupt Missouri primary for the vacant US Senate seat and then coasted to victory in the formal election, both successes courtesy of Tom Pendergast’s Kansas City machine. So powerful and disreputable was the Kansas City boss’s name nationally that, upon his arrival in Washington, Truman was greeted with scorn as “the Senator from Pendergast”. What was disregarded by the press was that Truman was Boss Tom Pendergast’s fourth choice for the seat and that, even in the crooked milieu of Kansas City politics and business, Truman had managed to keep his reputation as an honest man in public life.
Had the media of today been around in 1934, one wonders if Truman would have been allowed to get out of Union Station to take his seat. As is usual in America these days, Blagojevich has to go through trial by the media. Yet the principle of innocent until proved guilty remains the law and until a jury of Blagojevich’s peers decides his fate, I for one will keep an open mind.