Waxing Poetic About Injustice

By Dana Milbank
Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Rod Blagojevich may be about to lose the "gov" before his name, but the man's entertainment skills are unimpeachable.

Yesterday, as his trial opened in Springfield, the Illinois governor was on set in New York with the women of "The View."

"He does a fabulous Nixon impression!" Joy Behar told her co-hosts.

"Who said that?" Blagojevich responded, looking uneasy.

Behar poked the governor, seated next to her on the couch. "Just say, 'I am not a crook' to us. Do it!" When Blagojevich declined, Behar tousled his ample hair. "Come on -- you got the hair for it and everything," she urged. "Go like this: I am not a crook!" Behar made victory signs with both hands.

"I'm not going to do that," the soon-to-be-former governor said. "But let me make this perfectly clear," he said, raising a finger in the air. "I didn't do anything wrong. I'm not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing."

"We have to go," Whoopi Goldberg told the disgraced pol. Behar mussed his hair again.

His lawyer has quit, the mayor of Chicago calls him "cuckoo," and Blagojevich probably wasn't helping his case with a media tour yesterday that included a taped appearance on the "Today" show and live shots on "Good Morning America," "The View" and "Larry King Live." But he just might establish himself as an unofficial poet laureate of the criminal justice system.

At his news conference on Dec. 19, after federal prosecutors said they had him on tape trying to sell Barack Obama's Senate seat, Blagojevich quoted Rudyard Kipling:

"If you can keep your head when all about you/Are losing theirs and blaming it on you/If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you/But make allowance for their doubting, too . . ."

On Jan. 9, after he was impeached by the Illinois House, he came before the cameras with a little something from Alfred Lord Tennyson's "Ulysses." "Let me close by doing something that I probably won't do much after this, but I feel like doing it again," he said. "I want to quote another British poet." He then recited:

"One equal temper of heroic hearts/Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will/To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

Then, on Friday, he told a Chicago radio station that he was in "a 21st-century Frank Capra movie, Gary Cooper, Jimmy Stewart movie." That afternoon, he compared himself to an accused horse thief in a cowboy movie.

By the time the governor landed on the "Good Morning America" set yesterday, Diane Sawyer had Shakespeare on her mind. "Mrs. Blagojevich is also on these tapes, and some people in the columns have said she's like Lady Macbeth," Sawyer said. "How is Mrs. Blagojevich?"

"You know," he answered, "there's a phrase from a poem by Rudyard Kipling." He then quoted a verse from "If" that he had not read at his first news conference:

"If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken/Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools/Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken/And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools."

While Sawyer went with Shakespeare and Blagojevich opted again for Kipling, on the "Today" show, Amy Robach plumbed the Capra comparison. "Whether it's Jimmy Stewart or Gary Cooper, I do, I see myself that way," he said.

The governor went on to describe the day he was arrested at his home. "I had a whole bunch of thoughts -- of course, my children and my wife," he said. "And then I thought about Mandela, Dr. King, Gandhi and tried to put some perspective in all of this."

Four hours later, Blagojevich was on the set of "The View," being interviewed by a plasma television with Barbara Walters's face on it. "You've compared yourself to Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi," she said. "Are you really seeing yourself as one of the great martyrs of history?"

"Out of context," answered Blagojevich, his famous hair swooping over his forehead and eyes.

Another "View" co-host, Sherri Shepherd, had a question about a great woman. "We heard that you had first considered Oprah for the Senate seat," she said.

"Among the many potential candidates for the Senate seat, we discussed Oprah," said the man who, after his arrest, ultimately settled on Roland Burris.

"We've heard some of the tapes," Behar told him. "On some of them you and your wife are potty mouths."

"Let me explain something," Blagojevich began.

"Watch the expletives, because this is live," Behar cautioned.

Blagojevich went through a lengthy explanation of his case and "a rule called 8-b." After much back-and-forth, Behar pretended to fall asleep.

"Bottom line," Blagojevich summarized, "they're going to remove a governor elected by the people without the right to bring in witnesses."

"Where the hell is the Supreme Court?" Whoopi demanded. "The Supremes are here," she said of her co-hosts, "but where is the court?"

"You're Diana Ross," the governor told Whoopi.

"Ain't no mountain high enough," sang Behar.

This must be what Tennyson meant when he wrote about "heroic hearts."

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