“In matters like these,” Rod Blagojevich writes in his new book, The Governor, “lawyers advise you to say nothing.” That’s not a bad suggestion in any legally sticky situation, and especially good counsel when the matter at hand is the alleged sale of the president-elect’s newly vacated Senate seat to the highest bidder. But the former governor of Illinois isn’t the type to keep mum. Hence his new book, subtitled The Truth Behind the Political Scandal That Continues To Rock the Nation.
Sadly, there isn’t quite enough shocking material in the book to rock America. But with help from Slate’s reading aid, you’ll surely find enough absurdity to rock your next cocktail party.
The World’s a Stage
In the wake of his arrest, Blagojevich recited Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” at a press conference. Although this display of learning was roundly mocked by the media, he continues to show his literary bent in The Governor, peppering his writing with references to Shakespeare.
Page 134: Blagojevich sees his whole life as a Shakespearean play—or, rather, many plays. After he’s re-elected governor, Blagojevich complains about the hardships of a life in power: “And what we had just lived through was a personal tragedy. A story that has elements found in some of Shakespeare’s tragedies. I see my political rise with the help of my father-in-law as having elements of Henry IV, Part Two and Henry V and culminating with my own personal battle of Agincourt: winning the gubernatorial election. What happened after I became governor is a story filled with elements from Othello, King Lear, and Julius Caesar; a story of intrigue, of jealousy, of manipulation, of unnatural familial behavior, and of betrayal. And while you’re at it, you might as well throw in a little Richard the Third. Because when the story of my years as governor ends, I was left with neither a kingdom nor a horse. Or for that matter, even a car.”
Elvis. And Jimmy Stewart. And Martha Stewart.
Blagojevich isn’t just a highbrow type. Along with references to the Bard, he routinely cites figures from popular culture.
Page 114: After receiving word that he’d been elected governor of Illinois, Blagojevich “climbed the stage to the remix of the Elvis song, ‘A Little Less Conversation, a Little More Action.’ ” He then told his supporters that “my heart was full, and that I had nothing but a whole bunch of Hunka Hunka Burnin’ love for each and every one of you.”
Pages 210-11: Before his impeachment, Blagojevich had the option to voluntarily step aside and keep his pay for two years. He compares this chance to the “scene in the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life where the George Bailey character, played by Jimmy Stewart, is offered a prominent, high-paying position in the biggest and most influential bank in town … by his family’s longtime rival, Mr. Potter.”
Page 174: Far and away the best page in The Governor, in which Blagojevich name-drops the Pharisees, Robert De Niro, Abraham Lincoln, Mark Antony, and Martha Stewart. The Martha Stewart passage is perhaps the strangest of all. “I don’t know how to cook. I wouldn’t even know how to boil an egg properly. I never cooked a turkey in my life. I hate to say I never even carved one. But Martha Stewart and I have something in common. We have both been the targets of federal prosecutors.”
Sure, Blagojevich was caught on tape explaining that a Senate seat “is a fucking valuable thing“—but that’s not the whole story.
Page 181: “I never approached anyone who was interested in becoming a United States Senator or any of their representatives and asked for, or much less even raised the subject of, campaign contributions in exchange for the Senate seat,” Blagojevich insists. “I did not do it. I would not do it. I would’ve considered it the wrong thing to do.”
Page 243: Blagojevich complains that his impeachment trial was poorly run and is particularly sore that the senators listened to only some, not all, of his wiretapped conversations. “I was denied the most elementary right to bring in witnesses and to have every single wiretapped recording heard in the Senate impeachment trial. This evidence would have shown that I did nothing wrong. … Why did the leadership in the state Senate deny me that most basic right? I was the anti-Nixon, and this was the opposite of Watergate. Whereas President Nixon sought to prevent his tapes from being heard, I sought the opposite. I asked only for a chance to have my taped conversations heard.”
Page 244: As for why the Senate declined to hear all his tapes, “many of those same Senate Democrats were on some of those telephone conversations with me. They didn’t want what they were saying heard.”
Page 179: So what did happen? Blagojevich says that Marilyn Katz, a political activist who hosted fundraisers for Obama, indicated to his chief of staff “that if I appointed Valerie Jarrett to the U.S. Senate, the Obama people would help me raise money from their network of contributors across the country. And that the new senator and the Obama political operatives would help to make it happen.”
Pages 185-86: Blagojevich claims that his first choice for the seat was Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. He didn’t want money in exchange, but he admits he did expect her father, Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, to make a legislative deal: “Where he would agree to pass legislation to expand access to affordable healthcare to working and middle-class families. Where he would agree to pass a bill that would place a moratorium on mortgage foreclosures and a bill that would require insurance companies to cover the pre-existing medical conditions of people who are sick but either cannot afford or cannot obtain health insurance.”
Page 52: Blagojevich also claims that Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, asked “to see whether or not I would be willing to work with him and appoint a successor to his congressional seat who he would have designated to be a placeholder and hold the seat for him when he sought to return to Congress.” Blagojevich says he promised Emanuel he’d query his legal counsel to see what was possible.
Page 243: Blagojevich’s main theory for why he—an innocent man—might have been targeted is that he didn’t want to raise taxes. “I believe there was a deal between the new Senate leadership, Mike Madigan, and Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn, to get me out of the way so Quinn could propose an increase in the state income tax.”
A Man’s Home Is His Castle
Pages 260-61: Blagojevich believes his civil liberties were violated when he was arrested at home. He compares this injustice to the wrongs committed in totalitarian states: “To invade my home where every American has a right to expect that he or she is safe from the intrusion of the government is one of the most basic rights that separate us from other countries. This is what they did in Soviet Russia. It’s what they do in North Korea or Iran or Castro’s Cuba. It’s not how it is supposed to be in George Washington’s or Thomas Jefferson’s America. This isn’t American justice. What this prosecutor did by ordering my arrest at my home with my children there came right out of the playbook of the KGB. This is why my father fled after World War II. This is why he fought the Nazis and spent four years in a Nazi prisoner of war camp.”