Couldn’t We Ask The Supreme Court What They Think Of The Rules?

Max, allow me to say that I am wholly in support of our executive branch upholding the law and I am disappointed if I came off otherwise. And I don’t think that sentiment is in conflict with my original argument that our leadership has handled a few Senate scandals, including the Blagojevich-Burris situation, poorly. In regard to Powell v. McCormack there are definitely those who believe the Senate’s hands are tied but there also seems to be an argument on the other side that because Burris was not elected by the people of Illinois it may be possible to refuse to seat him. Given that there appear to be reasonable arguments behind both interpretations of the law, it is a fair bet that any challenge to Burris’ appointment would eventually go to the Supreme Court. I suspect (and hope) that before Harry Reid’s initial comments that the Senate would refuse to seat anyone appointed by Blagojevich that Reid actually investigated whether contesting a Blagojevich appointment was legally tenable.

Reid also (allegedly) made the catastrophic mistake of privately pressuring Blagojevich to select either Lisa Madigan or Tammy Duckworth for the seat over Jesse Jackson Jr., Danny Davis and Emil Jones. Not only was Reid making a mistake to publicly state the Senate would not seat any Blagojevich appointee while privately pushing for particular appointees, but Reid also opened himself up to the criticism that race was a driving factor in his preference for the appointment. And astonishingly Reid did this by assuming he could trust a corrupt politician in the midst of scandal and public bouts of megalomania to keep a private conversation private. Reid effectively neutered himself on the issue and a better leader would have handled the situation without embarrassing himself so thoroughly. Reid backed himself into a corner where it would look like he was advocating for particular candidates because of their race rather than their qualifications (and he very well may have!) and it hindered his ability to be fully critical of Blagojevich’s slection of Burris. In fact you could say this was played masterfully by Blago after receiving the “advice” from Reid.

As for Obama, it is less clear where he stands however he does have a dicey history with the black Chicago south side constituency that Burris made his career out of. Obama even lost an election to Bobby Rush, who spoke at the press conference during which Burris’ appointment was announced. It could only look bad for Obama to involve himself in these issues. Obama would be lowering himself to take a legally risky position (although once again, possibly tenable) in a battle against a weak, scandal tainted Illinois politician and two pillars of the Chicago black community. The risk is high and the reward likely low. And we have already seen Obama shy to risk any capital when he declined to actively campaign for Jim Martin against Saxby Chambliss in Georgia’s Senate runoff.

What I see here is ham-handed leadership by Reid and a need to be mindful of risking political capital by both Reid and Obama. My point was never that political agendas should trump the law, instead my point was that concerns of integrity will likely always lag behind concerns of politics. The old boys network of the Senate must laud a long time Senator regardless of his number of felony convictions and our legislators only dislike Blagojevich appointees when the appointee is not the one that the party privately lobbied for.

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Make No Mistake The Rules Still Do Not Apply

We heard campaign pledges of accountability and of changing the atmosphere in Washington. We heard about change and saw the word boldly written in light blue capitals below the striking redded, blued and beiged visage of now President-Elect Obama. We were offered visions of a Washington more like what we would like it to be. Thankyou Barack, and thankyou Shepard Fairey for providing us with those uplifting moments of hope whose memory still brings a cozy feeling of inner warmth. So this is a good time to remember that it has been reported, including being emphasized by someone who was unceremoniously kicked off of Obama’s campaign jet for his reporting, that Obama likes to operate in the world as it is not the world as we would like it to be.¬†With that in mind perhaps it should be no surprise that we still live in the world as it is and the rules still do not apply.

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We would like an unrepentant convicted felon not to receive an extended standing ovation on the United States Senate floor. In some dream world we might even hope that a convicted felon would be denied a chance to return to the Senate floor. Once again remember we live in the world as it is. We would hope that a governor whose term has been tainted with scandal, corruption and an impeachment trial for trying to sell off an open Senate seat, and who was overcome with glee by the opportunity to hold obtuse press conferences designed to push an already upset public to the point of being irate, would not be allowed to select his state’s new Senator. It appears our hopes are being dashed. And dashed rather quickly.

It would be a great risk of political capital to stand up to Stevens or Blagojevich or Burris. Standing up against any of them would be a messy legal battle and a risk of failure which would result in being branded with a scarlet “F” for the remainder of a political career. The sensible and pragmatic thing for President-Elect Barack Obama and the rest of our nation’s leaders to do is to work with the cards they have been dealt rather than stubbornly pointing out the deck has been tampered with.

Yet notice that the post-Bush era is beginning with a lack of leaders willing to dig in their heels against brazenly illegal and immoral acts. Notice that the post-Bush era is beginning with leadership unwilling to take political risk to stand up for what appears right to all but a few of us. Is this not what we supposedly whisked away? I imagine few of us actually believed there was a seismic change in Washington brewing, but could anyone have imagined such an absurd gaggle of political imbroglios would make our lack of “new politics” so abundantly clear from day one? The only elected official with real hope of changing our political system is one whose cry upon being sworn in is: “It is your duty as a citizen to unseat me for the betterment of society, as I am susceptible to the temptations of doing what is politically advantageous.” The world as it is still is. Let us hope that the other promises we received, that our leaders will change our disappointing, pragmatic, Machiavellian world for the betterment of our pocketbooks and health care plans, prove to be less shallow.