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Clout Gate

(Photo: A lack of compassion is never all it’s cracked up to be.)

Clout Gate.  I’m coining the term here and now.  I can’t think of any better reason than clout to explain why an Illinois governor elected on an anti-corruption platform and ending up under long-term federal investigation would think he could get away with disgraceful deeds the likes of which got Rod Blagojevich arrested in his jogging suit by the F.B.I. on Tuesday morning.

Anyone reading this outside of Illinois might take clout as a noun.  They would be mistaken.  In the Central Time Zone, clout is very definitely a verb.  Mike Royko, Chicago’s patron saint of news columnists, said it best back in 1973:

“What clout is in Chicago is political influence, as exercised through patronage, fixing, money, favors, and other traditional…methods.”

Clout is not the payoff.  Clout is putting out your hand to receive the envelope that you have no doubt will shortly be sitting in your palm.

There is no more clouted person in Illinois than its Governor.  For better or worse, even Mayor Daley knows that.  The State Constitution’s lack of a recall mechanism virtually guarantees that whatever antics are undertaken by the occupant of Springfield’s executive office will not generate real political consequences.

Not unless outrage brings clout out into the open.  That rarely happens.  In the history of Illinois, it’s never happened to this extent.

Clout is demanding the head of a children’s hospital make a donation to your re-election fund to free up millions of dollars in state aid.

Clout is shaking down a billionaire to pack the editorial board of a major American newspaper.

Clout is trying to sell the vacated Senate seat of America’s first black President-elect.  (And it’s also not a little bit stupid, considering it was the President-elect, himself, clouting for his preferred candidate.)

And while it may be a great friend to those who have it, it is an enemy of those who don’t.  For clout is a zero-sum game.  For those who swear by it to prosper, the sly-wink, under-the-table, knowing-nod means by which this happens means someone else is going to get screwed. Maybe a lot of people.  Unfairly. Illegally.

Because if clout could work the miracles that it does without causing harm and injustice, it would be out in the open.  There wouldn’t be a shadow market for political favors, much less a carpet-bagging federal prosecutor in long-term Windy City residence.

Clout has been considered natural law in these parts since long before anyone reading these words was born.  It is a myth that clout makes the world go ’round, yet lack of clout can stop your personal world in its tracks.

On its own, it does not make the sun set or the moon rise.  It is not responsible for the tides.  It makes no eternal breezes blow, though it can be responsible for the winds emerging from the mouthpieces of certain politicians.

Clout will not regrow your hair, remove your wrinkles, or reduce your turkey neck.  Nor, contrary to popular belief, will it rescind your erectile dysfunction.

Left unchecked, however, clout will seek to fulfill itself by taking advantage of everything in its path.  Good judgment.  Good government.  Social justice.  Citizenship.

Rolling full speed ahead, clout will trample compassion for your fellow man into the dust, barely breaking a sweat and feeling no remorse in the process.

When completely run amok, clout becomes an enemy to all. This week in Illinois, apparently even to those who have it.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  For clout is one thing more: it is a choice. Clout is neither handed down from God nor taught in school. Instead, it is a deliberate strategy of individuals too fearful of mind to believe in their own ability to succeed, and too cynical of heart to understand that violating another is never done without God–and occasionally Patrick Fitzgerald–watching.

In this, it is a problem of an entire society.  Is it really any wonder that elected leaders, appointed officials, and duly sworn functionaries would come to believe that growing their personal wealth is a function of raping the public weal in a world where most of us cannot say words like love, honesty, and compassion with a straight face?

Clout will remain the scourge of civil society in the Great State of Illinois and elsewhere until we–as an electorate and as a people–realize the miracles we are capable of making happen every day from now until forever by merely standing together instead of tearing each other apart.

And as long as clout remains unchallenged, it will also remain the reason for the sudden waning of Chicago’s equally sudden waxing of credibility on the national stage. Because the coattails of Obama’s hometown media spotlight will stick around long after he’s gone away to Washington.

And maybe long after Blagojevich goes away to prison, too.

Categories: Best Of Chicago Carless Blagojevich Scandal Huffington Post Chicago Reprints Politics

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Mike Doyle

I’m an #OpenlyAutistic gay, Hispanic, urbanist, Disney World fan, New York native, politically independent, Jewish blogger in Chicago. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I write words and raise money for nonprofits. I’ve written this blog since 2005. And counting...

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5 replies

  1. Mike,
    Illinois Governor has NEVER trumped Chicago Mayor in the history of Illinois politics, and there’s never been a governor in modern Illinois history with *less* clout than Blagojevich. It’s true.

    Blago is a product of his father-in-law’s political organization and has never had the savvy to truly build any kind of organization or clout on his own — like, say, a Mike Madigan, an Emil Jones or a Mayor Daley.

    My contention is that he’s in the situation that he is now precisely because he lamented the utter lack of respect and overt contempt for him by his “peers.”

    Daley knows how to make allies and enemies alike “kiss the ring.” Blago never did, and he’s paying for it now, literally and figuratively.

  2. Hmm. I don’t think you guys are completely at odds; I think it has more to do with the definition of clout.

    Blagojevich had a lot of power as governor, undeniably, but because of his incompetence and arrogance he had lost his behind-the-scenes power as well as his public political capital.

    Mayor Daley, on the other hand, may not have as much inherent political power as Blagojevich, being mayor, but he’s relatively popular–aside from his electoral dominance, which has a lot to do with this being a one-party town–and can make the City Council do his bidding.

    Blagojevich couldn’t, for a long time now, make anyone do anything that didn’t involve his absolute power as governor. Take the Metra thing–he had to basically do that by fiat. I think that’s why he ultimately got busted, as well: Blago didn’t have anything to give other people besides the things that he *has* to do under the law. He had zero public support and terrible working relationships with the state legislature.

    That, to me, is the difference. Daley controls a machine, and is a political powerhouse; Blagojevich controls his office and the powers vested in it, or at least that’s basically all he controlled by the time he got busted.

    So Blago had more clout in the sense that he controlled more powerful political levers, but less (I think) in the sense that he fell outside of the state’s ultimate power–the Democratic machine that created him.

    [Ed. Note: Whet Moser is the scribe of the Chicago Reader’s widely read Chicagoland blog–thanks for refereeing, Whet!]

  3. Anna, while I respect your opinion, I don’t agree.

    Nowhere in my post do I claim our lack of a gubernatorial recall mechanism is evidnce of clout. My point is that without one, any given governor is free to revel in pay-to-play politics that are at the heart of clout without fear of repercussion.

    And the Illinois governor is far more clouted than the Chicago mayor. The governor can dictate to the mayor–and has–and can because he controls the purse strings of the state. That’s a huge well of clout right there–and one which forces the Chicago mayor to play nicely with the Illinois governor in order to receive a fair share. That’s why even up to this point you have not heard Mayor Daley lambaste Blagojevich. The latter can still fiscally screw the former’s city. Anyone paying attention during the two-plus years that Blagojevich held the CTA–and by extension the city–hostage over transit funding would appreciate this salient fact of Illinois life: Daley cannot stop tax revenues from going to Springfield, but Blago can sure stop their redistribution from coming back into Chicago.

    As for Daley helping Blago get elected, his own father-in-law (Chicago Ald. Dick Mell) has said, Blagojevich is not very mindful of honoring the support that got him into the governor’s office in the first place.

    As for impeachment, this is the first time we’ve been down this road in Illinois. I would hardly call an untried removal mechanism that may well fail without the support of the lame-duck Repubublican minority leadership as evidence of a looming consequence for bad behavior on the part of an Illinois governor.

    Moreover, it remains to be seen whether Blagojevich will resign. Given his deaf-ear behavior towards criticism during his recent few years in office (labels of “sociopath” by his own friends in the February 2008 issue of Chicago Magazine are telling in this regard), I wouldn’t expect him to leave office of his own accord. So a “forced resignation” looks to me like an even more far-fetched political consequence than impeachment.

    Furthermore, I find it surprising that you can’t make sense out of the overall post. I don’t know how much more clear I could have made it. Clout is the most negative and damaging force in Illinois politics, and it arises by choice thanks to those officials and functionaries who decide to engage in political favors and pay-to-play politics.

    Not for nothing, that entire point is simply a restatement of Mike Royko–as I pointed out in my post by quoting him. So if you have a beef with that contention, you’ll have to get in your time machine, go back 35 years, and pick a fight with the most incisive Chicago columnist who ever lived. I happen to think he was absolutely correct in his take on the matter.

    Finally, as for why Blagojevich got caught? No one ever said clout and intelligence were mutually inclusive.

  4. Have to STRONGLY disagree with your statement that the most clouted person in Illinois is Blago.

    The Governor is but a babe in the woods compared to Mayor Daley. He was put in the Governor’s Mansion with Daley’s blessing and that doesn’t come free.

    The fact that there’s no recall mechanism for the Governor is not a sign of his clout. It’s simply, as you pointed out, the way the Illinois Constitution is written.

    I’m sorry, but this entire post makes no sense to me. If Blago had so much clout, then why did he get caught? And how is his near-indictment not a political consequence? I call getting impeached or being forced to resign a political consequence.

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