The Blagojevich case is so mind boggling that I've had a hard time making sense of it. Probably the best explanation of the forces at play comes from the always-reliable Michael Barone, who has a long history of studying Chicago politics (and everywhere else, for that matter). His astringent take is here. Two money quotes:
I've long since come to the conclusion that Rod Blagojevich is clearly the stupidest governor in all of our 50 states, and he may be the stupidest governor I've had occasion to write about in the four decades when I've been co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. And a stupid man (or woman) in high political office can be very dangerous to all concerned. I have long said that as a political operative I would prefer a smart opponent to a stupid opponent. If you're pretty smart yourself, you should be able to figure out what another pretty smart person will do. But whether you're smart or stupid, it's hard to figure out what a stupid person will do. That's even more true when the stupid politician is your political ally. Stupid people do all sorts of things that are against their own interests. Like tell the press on Monday that you wouldn't mind being taped, even when (as we learned on Tuesday) that you've been saying all kinds of things that you should have known could easily send you to the slammer.
Stupider than Sarah Palin? And here we had it on good authority that wasn't possible. And then there's this primer on how it works in Chicago:
"The most fascinating part is yet to be told," Jennifer Rubin writes, "how someone this unhinged gets to be governor and gets re-elected without anyone blowing the whistle." Well, the short answer is that this is Chicago, and Chicago politics is unique, as I argued in this blogpost, which starts off with an examination of the question how the unrepentant terrorist William Ayers thrived in the Chicago civic establishment or what I call le tout Chicago. The answer to the question of how Ayers and Blagojevich rose is family connections. Ayers is the son of a former Chairman of Commonwealth Edison (now Exelon). Blagojevich is the son-in-law of 33rd Ward Democratic Committeeman Dick Mell. Ward committeemen are hugely important in Chicago politics: Dan Rostenkowski and his father had been the 32nd ward committeemen from 1935 to 1995; the ward committeemen from the 11th ward since some time in the 1940s have been Richard J. Daley, Richard M. Daley and John Daley; the 13th ward committeeman Bill Lipinski, retiring suddenly from Congress in 2004, was able to get the Democratic nomination for his son Dan Lipinski from a group of ward committeemen despite the fact that Dan Lipinski was a political science professor at the University of Tennessee and hadn't lived in Chicago for years.
The Lipinski case is probably the most egregious case of how it works. In Chicago the wards are the modern-day equivalent of fiefdoms. Blago marrying a Mell was good enough to get him entree into Chicago politics. As it happens, Blago's perch prior to running for the governor's office was as a Congressman. The seat once belonged to Dan Rostenkowski, who became one of the most powerful men in Washington before he was derailed in a scandal of his own. Blago took the seat away from a Republican placeholder who won the seat when Rosty went down. Interestingly, the seat is now held by Rahm Emanuel.
There's a lot more in Barone's piece, including insights on Jesse Jackson Jr. and David Axelrod. Read the whole thing.