Rod Blagojevich: Obama's first scandal

The Governor of Illinois is up on corruption charges after the FBI caught him discussing how to profit from his authority to name someone to Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat.

Whatever his sins, Rod Blagojevich deserves a "heartfelt thank you from his tried and unhappy nation", says Rupert Cornwell in The Independent on Sunday. Thanks to the Governor of Illinois, hundreds of millions of Americans have had a scandal to talk about that hasn't lost them their jobs or their savings. Last week, Blagojevich was indicted on corruption charges after FBI wiretaps caught him discussing ways in which he might profit from his authority to name someone to the Senate seat vacated by president-elect Barack Obama.

The association with Obama is what makes the story so "tinglingly compelling", says Gerard Baker in The Times. Then there's the language, which comes straight from a gangster film. In the official transcript of the tape, Blagojevich refers to the Senate seat: 'I've got this thing and it's f****** golden and I'm just not giving it up for f****** nothing'. Poor Obama, says Sandy Grady in USA Today. He is like a "super-talented rookie sports star whose first-game glory is distracted by a crime spree in his old neighbourhood". Blagojevich, the "bush-league Tony Soprano with a beaver-pelt hairstyle" is the last thing he needs right now.

This sideshow is undeniably ill-timed, agrees Baker. Even if Obama emerges squeaky clean, as looks likely, he wants to keep the focus on his new Cabinet and his rescue plans for the nation. Instead, much of what he and his aides have done and said will be subjected to the "blowtorch of prosecutorial scrutiny and suddenly more attentive media". True, says Alexandra Starr in The Daily Telegraph. But at least there may be some positive PR from this too. The fact that Obama managed to navigate his way to power in a state riven with machine politics and nepotism (Blagojevich himself is the son-in-law of a powerful local politician) reveals him to be a "singularly talented politician".

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Enough about Obama, what about Illinois? asks Gail Collins in The New York Times. The "Senate seat sellathon" is actually not the most damaging aspect of this affair: several centuries of experience have shown that the nation can "survive quite nicely" even if a sizable minority of senators are "brain-dead bank robbers". What matters more is that Blagojevich a man who took office vowing to bring ethics reform to Illinois has "upped the already hearty level of cyncism in Illinois voters". The 76-page complaint against Blagojevich is a veritable "feast of bad behaviour", says The Economist. Among other charges, Blagojevich stands accused of putting the squeeze on the local paper and enforcing Chicago's political speciality 'contributions' in return for city or state contracts. Corruption in Illinois certainly isn't ground-breaking news, says Baker. Blagojevich became the fifth of the past eight governors of the state to have been indicted; if he goes to jail, he will be the fourth to serve time. As such, he's hardly a one-off when it comes to bending the rules.

The affair may have one small, but positive effect on Britain, says The Guardian. Obama is about to appoint US ambassadors to countries such as ours. "With rare exceptions, these appointments have for decades been treated as an appropriate reward for campaign donors." However, it is high time ambassadors were appointed for their professional expertise, not the size of their donations. If the scandal makes Obama rethink this "indefensible" practice, then "some good may have come from it".

Emily Hohler

Emily has extensive experience in the world of journalism. She has worked on MoneyWeek for more than 20 years as a former assistant editor and writer. Emily has previously worked on titles including The Times as a Deputy Features Editor, Commissioning Editor at The Independent Sunday Review, The Daily Telegraph, and she spent three years at women's lifestyle magazine Marie Claire as a features writer for three years, early on in her career. 


On MoneyWeek, Emily’s coverage includes Brexit and global markets such as Russia and China. Aside from her writing, Emily is a Nutritional Therapist and she runs her own business called Root Branch Nutrition in Oxfordshire, where she offers consultations and workshops on nutrition and health.