How Blago ‘made off’ with a few senators

Posted Jan. 09, 2009, at 5:20 p.m.

There seems to be some confusion among television’s talking heads as to the correct pronunciation of the surname of Bernard Madoff, the smooth-talking flim-flam artist who allegedly bilked legions of investors out of many billions of dollars in a modern-day Ponzi shell game.

Some pronounce the name “Mad-off,” others say “Made-off” and a few pronounce it both ways, occasionally in the same sentence. I’ve not seen any pronunciation guide such as newspapers often run with more complicated tongue-twister names loaded up with consonants, but considering the circumstances it would seem only proper that “Made-off” — as in “made off with my life savings” — is the correct pronunciation.

Such is the intellectual depth of my thoughts while, dressed as Nanook of the North, I am outside clearing the last of Al Gore’s latest batch of global warming from my front yard.

As I toil, the extracurricular activities of Madoff and Rod Blagojevich, the embattled Illinois governor whose name became a household word several weeks ago — complete with pronunciation guide — fight for my attention.

On New Year’s Day, the Chicago Sun-Times urged Illinois legislators to press on with impeachment proceedings against Blagojevich, the entrepreneurial Democrat who had been caught allegedly trying to sell Barack Obama’s old U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder. On Thursday a legislative committee voted to impeach Blagojevich.

“Every day that Rod Blagojevich remains governor is another bad day for the state,” the Sun-Times editorial stated in suggesting that the man is “politically and ethically bankrupt.” I suppose that most people grown weary of Chicago’s pay-to-play machine politics may agree with the conventional wisdom expressed by the pun-dits in the Sun-Times ivory tower that it’s time for the guv to find a new job.

But I can’t possibly be the only stalwart who, after watching the continuing Blagojevich soap opera play out on television, might be tempted to award the guy a gold star for meritorious achievement before the good burghers of Illinois send him packing.

The reason would be elementary, my dear Watson: In choosing Democrat Roland Burris, an African-American and a former Illinois attorney general, to fill Obama’s Senate seat, Blagojevich had deftly outmaneuvered Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a fellow Democrat, leaving the hand-wringing Uriah Heep of the Senate looking like a man desperately in search of a plausible Plan B. Brazen defiance trumps aggravating sanctimoniousness. Not a particularly great day for the republic, perhaps, but possibly a satisfying one for a goodly slice of the electorate nonetheless.

Reid and Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois had inexplicably boxed themselves in when they went before the television cameras to declare that there was no way in hell the Senate would allow Burris to be seated in the new Congress. You can take that to the bank, amigos, they declared, despite suggestions from cooler heads that the proposition may be constitutionally flawed and therefore not one on which to bet the farm.

And now, here before me on widescreen television in high-definition mode, were a smiling Reid and Durbin flanking a beaming Burris — all making nice to one another and acting like the dearest of long-lost friends. Turns out that Burris will likely be seated after all, despite the macho posturing to the contrary by the titans of the Senate. All he has to do is jump through a few hoops to save face for leadership and he’ll soon be a card-carrying member of The Club.

I returned to my task of rearranging the new-blown drifts of global warming outside, wondering why supposedly savvy politicians so often paint themselves into a corner on these things.

Had Reid and Durbin simply vowed that they would work to see that Burris was not seated — rather than unequivocally state that he would not be seated — they’d have conveyed the same message and the same sense of outrage at the Blagojevich surprise appointment and left themselves with an escape route when things headed south.

Not that political junkies are complaining. So far, Part One of the Blagojevich soap opera has been a swell antidote for the winter blahs. And there remains “Part Two: Blagojevich, The Impeachment,” to carry us through to mud season.

BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. Readers may reach him by e-mail at olddawg@bangordailynews.net.

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