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The Blago Blitz

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 27, 2009 10:24 AM

As the Illinois Senate began impeachment proceedings yesterday against the man who has variously compared himself to a cowboy, Mandela and Gandhi, Rod Blagojevich was chatting up Diane Sawyer, Larry King and the ladies of "The View."

It is, to say the least, a novel defense.

The headlines are all about Blago saying he toyed with naming Oprah to Obama's Senate seat, rather than the criminal charge that he tried to auction off that seat. (I guess the pay cut was too big for Ms. Winfrey, so he had to settle for Roland Burris.)

I see several possibilities here:

-- Blagojevich is so in love with the media spotlight that he'd rather preen on shows from "Today" to "Nightline" than fight for his job in Springfield.

-- Blagojevich knows the state Senate is going to boot him out of office--"the fix is in," he declared yesterday--so he's decided to portray the process as a circus.

-- Blagojevich is more worried about staying out of jail at this point, so he's using the airwaves to portray himself as a victim in the eyes of potential jurors.

-- Blagojevich, facing unemployment, is hoping to land a big book deal.

-- He loves the free hair and makeup.

Whatever the Democratic governor's motivation -- and this is a man who Richard Daley has pronounced "cuckoo" -- he has been rushing from one studio to the next. My favorite was his deadpan explanation that he couldn't figure out how to approach Oprah without it looking like "a gimmick to get cheap publicity at her expense." Ya think?

My second favorite: When Joy Behar called him a potty mouth. No bleeping kidding.

His invoking of Gahdhi, Mandela and Martin Luther King was too much for Barbara Walters: "Are you really seeing yourself as one of the great martyrs in history?" Blago said he'd been taken out of context.

What, she asked, about his wiretapped comments about a vacant Senate seat being bleeping golden? Out of context.

Walters persisted: Did you say those things? Blago ducked.

Wouldn't it be better if he resigned? No, that would amount to an admission of guilt -- and would disgrace his children. (He also told Walters that his wife -- who was just as profane as Rod in saying he should exact revenge against the Chicago Tribune -- loves "The View.")

Blagojevich kept insisting that he's being denied the right to call witnesses at the Senate trial, which is not true. Patrick Fitzgerald has asked both sides not to call witnesses who could jeopardize the criminal proceeding, which rules out Rahm, Valerie Jarrett and Jesse Jackson Jr. And he never actually discusses the substance of the allegations.

After quoting the likes of Kipling, Blagojevich invoked the "old gospel song 'One Day at a Time Sweet Jesus' " on NBC yesterday. He remains the best show in town -- and most likely a soon-to-be former governor.

Chicago Tribune columnist Phil Rosenthal reaches for the cinematic comparison:

"Taking his media blitz national Monday in New York, hundreds of miles from the start of his impeachment proceedings in Springfield, embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich continued to portray himself as Jimmy Stewart in 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,' an idealist who stands up to political corruption. Yet Blagojevich at times also came across as Jimmy Stewart in 'Harvey,' an eccentric who seems to see things others don't and says things others consider odd."

Besides, despite his on-air claims, the governor can so call witnesses:

"Blago, you're busted. You're misstating the law," says truTV anchor Lisa Bloom. "I'd stick up for the due process rights of even the most despised amongst us, even you, accused of withholding money for a children's hospital and trying to sell Obama's senate seat. But don't make up phony claims."

As for the trial itself, the Chicago Sun-Times reports:

"Gov. Blagojevich 'repeatedly and utterly' broke his oath of office, betrayed voters and illegally used the powers of his office as 'bargaining chips,' a House prosecutor alleged today during the open of the governor's impeachment trial."

A substantive debate -- yes, you read that right -- is taking shape over the Obama stimulus plan. Politico has a nice summary: "Democrats and Republicans are in a race to define the $825 billion stimulus bill before the other can -- wielding poll-tested words and carefully polished talking points to cement their vision of the plan in the public mind. President Barack Obama promises to 'modernize' 10,000 schools, 'weatherize' 2.5 million homes, and 'computerize' health records in five years -- action words straight out Madison Avenue, says one expert. Republicans counter that it's a 'trillion dollar spending plan,' bureaucrats throwing money at 'government programs.' "

And the L.A. Times has the latest: "President Obama travels to the Capitol today to meet with House and Senate Republicans, the latest in a series of high-profile efforts to reach across the aisle and make good on his campaign promise to swim against the partisan tide that has flooded Washington for decades.

"So far, his gestures have shown few signs of success, as Republicans have continued to snipe at his signature initiative -- legislation to stimulate the economy -- and even to question the sincerity of his efforts. In the stimulus bill's first two tests last week, it passed two committees without a single Republican vote."

The Wall Street Journal editorial page invokes a CBO non-study that was fed to the media by Republicans (not that this makes it wrong):

"According to Congressional Budget Office estimates, a mere $26 billion of the House stimulus bill's $355 billion in new spending would actually be spent in the current fiscal year, and just $110 billion would be spent by the end of 2010. This is highly embarrassing given that Congress's justification for passing this bill so urgently is to help the economy right now, if not sooner. . . .

"The spending portion of the stimulus, in short, isn't really about the economy. It's about promoting long-time Democratic policy goals, such as subsidizing health care for the middle class and promoting alternative energy. The 'stimulus' is merely the mother of all political excuses to pack as much of this spending agenda as possible into a single bill when Mr. Obama is at his political zenith."

In National Review, Rush Limbaugh responds to Obama after the president tells GOP leaders they can't just listen to the radio host or nothing will get done:

"One prong of the Great Unifier's plan is to isolate elected Republicans from their voters and supporters by making the argument about me and not about his plan. He is hoping that these Republicans will also publicly denounce me and thus marginalize me. And who knows? Are ideological and philosophical ties enough to keep the GOP loyal to their voters? Meanwhile, the effort to foist all blame for this mess on the private sector continues unabated when most of the blame for this current debacle can be laid at the feet of the Congress and a couple of former presidents . . .

"To make the argument about me instead of his plan makes sense from his perspective. Obama's plan would buy votes for the Democrat Party, in the same way FDR's New Deal established majority power for 50 years of Democrat rule, and it would also simultaneously seriously damage any hope of future tax cuts."

Republicans are taking heart from Obama's inaugural remarks, Fred Barnes reports:

"Republican leaders believe the speech pleased them more than it did House speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate majority leader Harry Reid. Obama's 'new era of responsibility' echoed the 'Personal Responsibility Act,' the third of the ten planks in the Contract With America. Obama also said that it's not the size of government which matters but whether it works. Newt Gingrich coined that thought years ago. Obama lauded 'risk-takers.' Democrats want to tax them to death.

"For the foreseeable future, attacking Obama will be counterproductive for Republicans. He's both enormously popular and the bearer of moral authority as the first African-American president. So the idea is for Republicans to make Obama an ally by using his words, from the inaugural address and speeches and interviews, against Democrats and their initiatives in Congress . . .

"Citing Obama's words makes political sense. It's at least worth a try. Republicans have nothing to lose.

"It might even get Republicans some attention. For the mainstream media, Obama is the only story in Washington. Most reporters are indifferent to the excesses of one-party, Democratic rule on Capitol Hill. But the argument that Democrats are out of sync with Obama, if repeated often enough, might get some traction."

I don't recall Barnes leading the charge against the excesses of one-party Republican rule on Capitol Hill.

It's time for the president to choose sides, says Robert Kuttner in the Huffington Post:

"He will face ideological qualms from the fiscal conservatives within his own party, as well as from most Republicans. So the bipartisan honeymoon is unlikely to last, and I'd say, good riddance. Obama's real challenge is to mobilize public opinion -- not just to win general approval ratings but to make it very hard politically for anyone in either party to oppose his recovery program or to demand crippling budget cuts down the line as the quid pro quo. That's what leadership is all about."

Slate Editor Jake Weisberg, writing in Newsweek, finds the inaugural unsatisfying and "in keeping with Obama's non-ideological approach to politics. To most of those listening, it came across as an expression of our new president's unsentimental good sense. Yet on rereading the speech in the less euphoric light of the next day, that passage seemed insufficient as a governing philosophy. 'Whatever works' is less a vision of the public sector's proper role than a placeholder for someone who has yet to figure out what he thinks that role should be.

"Obama's pragmatic liberalism risks blurring execution with intention, means with ends. To take his illustrations, it is either up to the commonweal to provide a minimum income to retired people, to offer health insurance to everybody and to increase income equality -- or it isn't. Most liberals would say these are legitimate responsibilities of government. Most conservatives would argue they aren't. On income security for the elderly, we've had a social consensus since the New Deal. On health care, a consensus may be emerging after decades of national ambivalence. When it comes to growing income inequality, a newer problem, there is no consensus. But Obama must decide what government's goals are before considering the subordinate questions of what works and how much we can afford."

Bill Kristol's NYT column yesterday began: "All good things must come to an end. Jan. 20, 2009, marked the end of a conservative era."

The Kristol era at the Times is ending as well. I explain where he's headed next.

Move over, ABC, CBS and NBC: Obama's first formal TV interview goes to al-Arabiya.

How should we characterize Andrew Sullivan these days? He wrote a book called "The Conservative Soul" but became a fierce Bush critic and enthusiastic Obama booster. Now he's not shying away from the L-word::

"Many American conservatives are liberals in the deepest sense -- they back the free market, the First Amendment, the broad balance of the American constitution, a decent respect for the opinion of mankind. But what has emerged in recent years is a darker, more authoritarian strain of conservatism -- rooted in the cultural and racial conservatism of the South, partial to a near-dictatorial war-presidency, believing in American exceptionalism to the extent that it exempts America from the moral norms of the rest of the world, and rooting the legitimacy of the American constitution in only one religious tradition (narrowly defined).

"These characters want to redefine conservatism around this theocratic, authoritarian, self-justifying ideology. I am more than happy to share the term liberalism with others. I am not going to have the word conservative coopted solely by these religious radicals."

In the latest Caroline fallout, the New York Post depicts David Paterson as a long-nosed Pinocchio, as columnist Fred Dicker writes:

"Gov. Paterson yesterday insisted he had no idea who did the slime job on Caroline Kennedy -- although the source of the information is about as close to him during the day as his wife is at night.

"He's a liar.

"The person responsible for the smear was an individual whose identity is well known to the press, whose full-time job is to do the governor's bidding, and who is intelligent enough not to call reporters to damage Kennedy's reputation without approval from the top -- and that means Paterson . . .

"Paterson's latest denials are merely the latest installment in a long series of lies told by the governor that many in government have started to call pathological."

Another Caroline post-mortem, from HotAir's Ed Morrissey, says David Paterson was being diplomatic:

"The only people the Kennedys have to blame are themselves, for pushing an unprepared Caroline into seeking the appointment. She didn't want to talk to the press, and when forced to do it, performed terribly. They put enormous pressure on Paterson to appoint her even as she stumbled so badly that she became less popular than Andrew Cuomo and couldn't herself articulate any specific reason why she wanted the job.

"In the end, Paterson had two options: come up with some excuse that disqualified Kennedy, or tell the world that she stunk up the joint."

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