The Senate Democrats' position on Roland Burris is so anti-liberal, that it falls to the right Patrick Buchanan's perspective on the subject. Buchanan, a popular conservative commentator, recently entered the fray surrounding Governor Rod Blagojevich's selection of Burris to fill President-elect Obama's vacant Senate seat.
Although Illinois law authorizes the governor alone to fill Senate vacancies, Democrats vow to block (using armed force, if necessary) Burris or any other candidate that Blagojevich chooses because a federal prosecutor alleges that he unlawfully tried to sell the seat.
In a series of posts (see links following this essay), I have criticized the Democrats' position for lacking a sufficient constitutional basis, abandoning liberal concepts, and wasting political and intellectual resources needed to address more pressing concerns. But in order to advance their goal of disempowering Blagojevich, Democrats have discarded important liberal values to such a large extent that Buchanan has become a greater champion for fairness than top leaders within the party of "change."
Taint versus Presumption of Innocence
The willingness of Democrats to find Blagjevich and Burris "guilty" (or "tainted") has been one of the disturbing aspects of this controversy. The prosecutor's "complaint" is merely a collection of allegations, not facts, and the released recordings, though salacious, are selectively extracted from the larger set of materials and taken out of their orignal context. Moreover, these items do not present any defense or conflicting evidence from Blagojevich.
Consequently, the Democrats cannot know, based on the proceedings thus far, whether Blagojevich has committed a crime or even engaged in misconduct. And even if Blagojevich were in fact culpable or tainted, no rational basis exists for imputing guilt to Burris and excluding him from office.
Although Democrats fail to admit that their position prematurely treats Blagojevich and, more importantly, Burris as criminals, Buchanan's sharp analysis gets to the heart of the matter:
There is not the slightest hint Burris did anything unethical or illegal to win this appointment. Nor is there any doubt as to Gov. Blagojevich's right to make the appointment. He is still governor of Illinois. He has not been convicted of anything. And he not only has the right but an obligation to carry out his duties, one of which is to appoint candidates to fill empty seats in the U.S. Senate. . . .Two Seats for Sale? Kennedy versus Burris
[H]ere in America, even a governor is innocent until proven guilty. And what exactly do those tapes [offered as evidence of a conspiracy] show, other than that Blago and his chief of staff engaged in crude and corrupt talk about getting rewarded with campaign contributions or high office for Blago in return for giving someone the Senate appointment?
Using vile language and ruminating on selling a Senate seat may be sins, but they are not necessarily crimes.
Currently, an increasing number of sources report that New York Governor David Paterson will choose Caroline Kennedy to take over Hillary Clinton's vacated seat. Unlike Blagojevich, Paterson will benefit greatly if he appoints Kennedy.
Before Blagojevich faced criminal charges, news articles reported that Obama called Paterson in order to support the appointment of Kennedy. I suspect that Obama did more than simply encourage the governor to take a look at Kennedy's resume and cover letter. Instead, it is highly likely that Obama, Kennedy and many of her supporters promised to help raise money for and campaign on behalf of Paterson, who faces an election battle of his own in two years.
Whether or not Kennedy and Obama made such overtures, Paterson undoubtedly considered how their massive financial and political networks could facilitate his own career aspirations. The famed Kennedy family's endorsement of Obama did more for his campaign than any other. Together, the famed Kennedy and Obama families' endorsement of Paterson and their fundraising strengths will prove highly "profitable" for him.
Although politicians routinely consider how they will gain (or lose) from their decisions -- including appointing individuals to office -- most people do not view this type of bargaining as criminal. But if the Kennedy appointment comes to fruition, choosing her and fulfilling the wishes of Obama will bring tremendous personal gain to Paterson, perhaps even more than a political appointment or money (for a campaign or otherwise) would have given Blagojevich.
After the scandal first began, a few media outlets and bloggers explored the fine line between illegal and legal political bargaining. But soon, commentators and politicians alike settled on a competely rigid and unnuanced position regarding Blagojevich. Once all of the evidence emerges, however, Blagojevich may be guilty of telephonic bravado, rather than a criminal conspiracy.
The fact that all of the individuals with whom Blagojevich allegedly wanted to bargain deny wrongdoing -- and remain untainted -- bodes well for his defense. If Blagojevich illegally attempted to sell the seat, the prosecutor should identify the buyer. If no buyer exists, then Blagojevich will have an easier time defending the case, assuming he is eventually indicted.
Even though the situation seems to warrant a nuanced approach, Democrats have taken a hard line against Blagojevich and anyone affiliated with him. But flexibility and patience for facts are central to a liberal system of justice. Unlike the Democrats, rightwinger Buchanan gets it:
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. says he talked to the governor for 90 minutes about the Senate seat but was never solicited. Nor did he offer anything. Obama aides Rahm Emanuel and Valerie Jarrett both talked to Blagojevich about the seat, and Rahm talked to his chief of staff.Race Politics
Neither claims to have been solicited for any kind of bribe.
Yet, if Blago were going to sell the seat, the obvious party to sell it to is the man with the power to appoint ambassadors and Cabinet officers, or to convince thers to hire Blago: President-elect Obama.
Yet, from all we know, nether Barack nor anyone on his staff ever offered anything illicit to the governor, nor were they asked for anything. Where is the body of the crime?
Although I believe that Democrats would have rejected any appointment that Blagojevich made, some progressives have discussed the unseemly image of Reid calling upon armed officers to exclude the only prospective black Senator. Democrats disclaim any type of racial prejudice in their position and even say that their objection does not even relate to Burris. But the impact of their actions implicate race and warrant greater scrutiny.
Liberals, over the vehement objection of conservatives, embrace civil rights doctrines that examine the effect of policies on groups and not simply the intent or bias of the decision maker. Under liberal standards, Reid's motivation and the validation of his decision by America's most popular and powerful black person is irrelevant. Nevertheless, liberals have strongly rejected any discuss the racial implications of Reid's decision, even though they eagerly invoke racial narratives (e.g., "diversity" or "historic election") when it suits them. Even on the subject of race, Buchanan's arguments tops Democrats in their adherence to liberal ideology:
Here we have an African-American elder statesman of the Democratic Party, an honorable and distinguished man, appointed by the governor according to law and the Constitution, to fill a Senate seat. There has been no hint of illegal consideration asked or given by either the governor or Burris.Parting Words
Yet Harry Reid, who presides over a Democratic caucus of some 60 senators, with not a single black member, is going to refuse this black man a seat to which the law entitles him? [Editor's Note: There are no black Republicans in the Senate either.]
One hopes Burris will stay firm and march up to that Senate, and, if nothing else, expose the hypocrisy. [Editor's Note: I disagree with Buchanan's irrelevant anti-affirmative action rant the follows this quoted text.]
After the events of last year, especially Obama's decision to pick Clinton as Secretary of State, very little can surprise me in politics. But that does not mean that political positions cannot disturb or upset me, which the Democrats' stance towards Blagojevich and Burris has in fact done. Perhaps Democrats will soon embrace liberal values once again and soften their inflexible stance towards Burris.
Note: Other conservatives have recently defended Burris as well (see here and here).
Related Readings on Dissenting Justice:
So When Exactly Does "Change" Arrive? Senate Battle Over Burris and Blagojevich Offers "More of the Same"!
Some Media Outlets Begin "Palinizing" Roland Burris
Defiant Blagojevich Names Obama's Successor: Decision Raises Political and Constitutional Questions
Like It or Not, Democracy Prevails: Illinois Supreme Court Refuses to Declare Blagojevich Unfit to Serve
Blago Impeachment: What Would Lincoln Do?
Playing or Paying Politics: Blagojevich, Political DealMaking, and the Difficulty of Drawing Lines
Pick Me! Caroline Kennedy Officially on the Job Market
Do Nepotism, Wealth and Dynastic Power "Taint" Kennedy's Likely Senate Appointment? Taking Reid's Arguments Where He Wouldn't Want Them to Go