Monday, October 19, 2009

You Can't Make Up CHUTZPAH Like This!

According to my records, Rod Blagojevich never received a Chutzpah of the Week award; but there is no doubt that, in a context that includes his trying to resolve the standoff between labor and management at Republic Windows and Doors by going after Bank of America as the root of the problem, his subsequent arrest, and what appears to have been a calculated decision to play the fool in the face of impeachment proceedings, Blagojevich "coulda been a contender." Perhaps it would be appropriate to consider him for some kind of "legacy award;" but there may be a viable alternative, which is that the Blagojevich legacy may now have passed to Senator Roland Burris.

Recall that Burris was appointed by Blagojevich to fill Barack Obama's Senate seat under a cloud of scandal that he had been the "highest bidder" for the position. Talk of that scandal quickly subsided after he took his Senate seat, and he receded into relative obscurity. Now, however, he is back in the spotlight; and his chutzpah is on a roll. Fortunately, Associated Press Writer Laurie Kellman has taken the trouble to provide us with the necessary background to highlight her report of his new role:

It was early January and Blagojevich had appointed Burris, a former Illinois attorney general, to Obama's former Senate seat — defying Democrats in Washington who had wanted someone without a tainted patron and with a better chance of winning election in 2010.

What happened next was a procession of ugly images, from Burris' rain-swept news conference after Democrats turned him away from a swearing-in to Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush daring Democrats to block an accomplished lawyer who would be the chamber's only black.

Bitterly, the Democrats seated Burris. But when it came out that Burris had admitted what he had denied under oath — that he'd unsuccessfully tried to raise money for Blagojevich — Majority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill., suggested that Burris resign. He refused.

A Senate ethics committee probe is pending into Burris' statements. Democratic leaders, meanwhile, refused to support any effort by Burris to run for a full term, and he will leave the Senate in 2011.

Meanwhile, his relationship with the rest of his caucus has settled into one of mutual, if chilly, benefit.

It works this way: Burris stays mum about any bitterness he may feel about his reception, and he gets Obama's Senate seat for two years. Democrats seat him, don't speak of him, and get his loyal vote at a time when all 58 Democrats and two independents must vote together to prevent Republican filibusters.

This brings us to the current state of play in Kellman's report:

For Democrats determined to get a health care bill, Sen. Roland Burris is like the house guest who couldn't be refused, won't soon be leaving and poses a plausible threat of ruining holiday dinner.

Suddenly, he can no longer be ignored.

The Illinois Democrat, appointed by disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, says he'll only vote for a bill to provide health care to millions more Americans as long as it allows the government to sell insurance in competition with private insurers.

And he says he won't compromise.

"I would not support a bill that does not have a public option," Burris, 72, said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. "That position will not change."

Those words caught the attention of the very Democratic leaders who tried to keep Burris out of the Senate, suggested he resign and have shunned him in unprecedented fashion. Burris is not the only Democrat to insist on creation of a government-run health plan. But he is the one who has the least to lose by defying President Barack Obama and the Democrats who once turned him out in the cold rain.

Like Blagojevich Burris feels strongly about representing his constituents, and both of them bring a strong sense of both populism and progressivism to their representation. However, while Blagojevich dealt with adversity by turning it into media entertainment, Burris has been playing by the rules and keeping in the shadows … until now when the sincerity of how he represents his constituents is at stake. Unlike any of his would-be colleagues, he can hang tough on the public option because he has nothing to lose. Better to be true to those you represent than to worry about winning back the favor of those who barely recognize that you exist.

For the record Burris is one of the signatories to stand behind Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown effort to bring "real reform" to health care in the Senate; but that effort has received little attention from any news source other than The Nation. Burris differs from the others, however, in that he can play this game for keeps, while the others must always play in the larger context of party politics. Furthermore, Kellman quoted him as saying that he is enjoying what he is doing. Thus, while he already shares a Chutzpah of the Week award for signing on with Brown, he deserves his own for not only hanging tough on the principle of the public option but also making such a public show of it. Will any of the other signatories now make an equally public show of standing with him? Enquiring minds want to know!

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