Thursday, January 1, 2009

Some Media Outlets Begin "Palinizing" Roland Burris

It did not take long for the media to support Senate Democrats after Governor Blagojevich defied their demand that he refrain from naming a successor to replace Obama in the Senate. Most mainstream media accounts of Blagojevich have almost assumed his guilt before trial. Now, some media outlets have turned their attention to Burris. Two recent articles "Palinize" the potential successor to Obama.

For those of you who are not familiar with the word Palinize, it refers to a concerted journalistic effort to portray a public person in the crudest and most utterly negative terms imaginable. Nuance and balance are off-limits. Instead, the Palinizing journalist can only depict the object of scrutiny as an abomination, a political disgrace, and as a helpless idiot.

Chicago Tribune
Fittingly, the Chicago Tribune leads the charge. One of the allegations of corruption against Blagojevich claims that he offered to assist the newspaper in a business transaction if it fired a journalist who had been critical of his administration. The paper also endorsed Obama and has published many positive articles about him. And Obama has insisted that Blagojevich resign and has condemned his selection of Burris.

Today, the paper published a polemical article by Stephen Chapman that wastes no time Palinizing Burris. Champman, who once conceded and defended the media's "crush on Obama," begins his article -- titled "An Empty Suit for an Empty Seat" -- with a negative tone from which he never departs:

Wall Street titan Bernard Madoff proved you can take an outstanding reputation and ruin it overnight. Now Roland Burris has demonstrated that even a mediocre reputation can be instantly destroyed.

Burris is the prototypical time-serving career politician who owes his success to being simultaneously ambitious and bland. He has never been one to challenge the status quo, but no one underestimates his self-esteem. The two Burris children, after all, are named Roland and Rolanda.
And Chapman closes with this nugget, suggesting that even if Burris manages to defeat the effort of Senate Democrats to exclude him, they could nonetheless reduce him to oblivion by not assigning him to a committee:

Once on Capitol Hill, Burris may have nothing to do but bask in his new title, show up for an occasional floor vote and cash his paycheck.

For that job, come to think of it, Burris is perfect.

Washington Post
David Broder of the Washington Post is not as ruthless in his criticism of Burriss as Chapman, but his essay effectively portrays Burriss a lightweight and as a political embarrassment:
Everyone, including Obama, has been exceedingly polite in their public comments about Burris. I have known him for years and I like him. But I have never been confused about the level of his talent. He was elected as far back as 1978 as state comptroller and stayed in that low-visibility office for 12 years before moving up to attorney general in 1990.

When he tried to climb higher, he found the competition too tough. He lost a Senate race to Paul Simon, tried three times for the nomination for governor without success, and ran for mayor of Chicago with the same result. He couldn't get past the Democratic primary in any of those contests.

Burris is, in short, typical of a lot of politicians in both parties who find a comfortable lodging for years in down-ballot offices but never make the cut for the major prizes. He was distinctive in Illinois mainly for breaking the color barrier in statewide office, thanks to his downstate birth and friendships and his pleasant, accommodating personality.
My take: I expect that more anti-Burris articles will emerge in the next few days. Very few of them will focus on his political and ideological record. Most, instead, will seek to discredit the appointment and provide legitimacy for the Senate Democrats opposition to his selection.

For an interesting contrast, a self-proclaimed conservative has argued that the GOP should not join the Democrats in opposing Burris. See Matt Lewis, Republicans Shouldn't Help Dems Block Burris.


Cynic in Chicago said...

I don't fully follow the argument that Burris' reputation is horribly destroyed. Why is it that to be of "good reputation" one has to join the liberal "guilty before charged" campaign against Blagojevich? Seemingly, as long as you are on board with that campaign you can do whatever you like and be of good character. Indeed, Jesse White (Secretary of State of Illinois) has created a new confirmation power for himself and remains a person of good character--as liberals seem not to be complaining about his principles or mediocrity.

I think it will be not too long before the media finds that Burris was involved in some corruption scandal--giving the Senate a good reason to refuse to seat him. Until then, I am sure he will continue to be Palinized.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Ditto! It is such an odd proposition: Unless you turn down a job that you presumably did not purchase, you are defective.

Also, the Jesse White situation is interesting. I read somewhere that Senate rules require that members be "certified," but I suspect this provision refers to elections (although I have not read it). I wonder what the Illinois SCT will do with it's own Marbury v Madison (Madigan?) situation.

I think that the Democrats possibly overplayed their hand. I am not saying they will lose, but they have expanded this situation beyond its significance. I doubt that anyone believes Burris bought the seat or that he would not vote the "party line." He says he will not run in 2010 - and his age leaves little room to question his assertion. Blago will eventually vanish, and 2010 will arrive, and a new election will take place.

So why all of the drama? Is it because Obama wants someone he knows to occupy the seat now to have an easier chance to run in 2010? That's not necessarily a safe bet. It carries risks (the candidate will have accumulated an attackable Senate record).

Cynic in Chicago said...

I doubt that Obama really cares. I think the calculus for him is that he can support the Senate leadership (which he needs) or say it is not a bit deal and be seen as supporting the Governor. Easy choice.

I don't doubt that White needs to do the certification. I just think it is clerical task. His comments suggests that he thinks he needs to agree with the governor. Even if he were certifying an election, he would only be certifying that candidate X got Y votes. What he is doing now just seems to be the latest installment in the "Democrats Gone Rogue" miniseries.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Well, if you're right, the question then becomes: What was in it INITIALLY for Senate leaders? It's easy to understand why they have dug their heels in now, but orignally, they could have condemneed the allegations "if true" and did not have to take the hard line that characterizes their current position.

I am not sure Obama is neutral. I thought he was not fond of Blago, and he wanted one of his buds to hold the job. Also, has made powerful statements at each turn against Blago. I guess it could represent more than simply helping the team. But maybe not. Ultimately motives do not matter in terms of assessing the appropriateness of the response.

PS: I was just on a website that had a positive "analysis" of Burris with respect to gay rights. The commenters said this should not matter because [he is a scum for taking the job...he won't take the seat....blah blah].

Critical Thinker said...

Well Professor, first off happy new year. I hope your holidays were spent well.

The problem with the Burris appointment to Senate is not one of qualifications it is one of ethics. Understandably, Blago is playing the card that this was his duty as Governor to assure the people of Illinois have Senate representation.

And you are quite correct in pointing out Blagojevich is innocent until proven guilty. He hasn't even been indicted yet. But with the Senate you are in a whole other realm. I highly doubt the SCOUTS or any other judiciary component will want to touch this hot potato.

As I am sure you already know with your background there has been mention of Powell 1967, where the SCOTUS upheld the Supremacy Clause, Constitution Article 1, paragraph 5. Giving Congress the ability to supersede any decision of the state and chose not to seat Burris. Granted the Powell case dealt with election, not appointment.

I hope the Senate can settle this. If it goes to court it will show Congress cannot even keep its own backyard clean. Simply put, Blago 1 Congress 0.

Cynic in Chicago said...

Critical Thinker. Can I ask what exactly is the ethics problem? I realize I am being a bit provocative, but I want someone to lay out the problem. If you accept that one is not guilty until proven, what is the problem?

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Critical Thinker, you have misstated the Powell ruling. It certainly recognized each chamber's authority under Art I, Sect. 5, but it narrowly construed that power as limited to judging only those criteria stated in the constitution (e.g., age, residency, etc.). It did not say that either the House or Senate has unbridled discretion to exclude any duly elected or selected candidate at will.

The Court acknowledged the power to expel, but this requires a 2/3 vote and (probably) a showing of wrongdoing by the person seeking admission to Congress. I have read some analysis which says Congressional rules require that the wrongdoing take place DURING office, not before.

As for the "ethical" matter, I guess I am somewhere between you and Cynic in Chicago. C/C takes the hard line that absent a conviction no ethical problem should exist. You seem to believe that the mere filing of a criminal complaint so taints the governor that he cannot make the appointment. Ironically, this is precisely a position that the Illinois Supreme Court refused to recognize.

Although I believe that some cases probably exist where such a cloud could exist absent a prosecution, I am not willing to accept it in this case -- due to the stance of the state legislature and court and the prosecutor as well. He has not been convicted; the court refused to declare him incompetent; the prosecutor now wants 3 additional months to bring the case; the prosecutor has asked that the impeachment panel refrain from interviewing material witnesses. Most significanlty, all of the "alleged" parties whom Blago was supposedly trying to bargain with have said that "no inappropriate conversations" took place with him. The public seemingly validates those claims. But if this is true, then Blago cannot be guilty, because no actions to further the conspiracy would have taken place. Unless the Senate is willing to say that Obama, Jackson, Madigan, and others engaged in inappropriate conversations with Blago at some point, then saying that the compalint against him creates an ethical cloud is disingenuous.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

PS: sorry for the typos, but blogger does not allow for the editing of comments.

ErikaM said...

Yes, in a court of law you are innocent until proven guilty. However, we are talking about basically a job -- governor. If Blago had been, say, a CEO of a company and it was revealed that he was engaged in shady tactics, he would be fired, and no questions would be raised. Essentially the US Senate is doing, or trying to do, the equivalent with blocking his nomination and hopefully, in the state, with his impeachment. Innocent until proven guilty is for the courts only. As governor Blago has a responsibility to remain above reproach in his actions. He didn't do that.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Hi, Erika. Thanks for posting. The difference between a corporation and the Senate and the State of Illinois is that the corporation is not bound by due process rules. What links a "court," Congress and Illinois is their exercise of governmental authority. As such, some semblance of due process matters, including, I would argue, that some factual basis exists before impeaching a governor AND certainly before denying a duly appointed Senator the opportunity to hold office (especially when no allegation of wrondgoing against him exists).

Here's another contrast to your CEO example. Federal and state workers do not automatically lose their jobs the way a coporate official would. They are entitled to procedural protections that other workers do not receive. And sometimes even officials have contract clauses that require procedures to protect them from immediate dismissal as well. And even when dismissed, they could receive tremendous payments on the way out.

Cynic in Chicago said...

I agree with the professor on both counts. CEOs (unlike most employees at corporations) generally have employment contracts that pay them if they are fired other than for cause. While most resign some are fired. However, I think it is safe to say that this usually happens after an investigation. When Boeing fired its CEO for having an affair with an employee, the board investigated the allegation--hiring a firm to interviews and the like. Likewise for Mcafee, Broadcomm and others caught up in the options scandals. Even HP investigated Fiorini (sp?) for some time before she went. None of them was fired because someone merely accused them of something. Likewise, the Illinois Legislature could investigate and fire Blagojevich if the person who has accused him is ever willing to share the evidence that underlies the accusation.

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