Whining to the Bitter End, Blagojevich Gets the Boot

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Jeff Roberson / AP

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich delivers his closing argument at his impeachment trial on Jan. 29

Maybe you watched the now former Governor Rod Blagojevich make his tardy and halfhearted "closing statement" to the Illinois senate that was poised to boot him from office. More likely, you didn't. After his media blitz through New York earlier in the week, what could he possibly say that was new?

But if you've heard one disgraced politician backed to the wall, you've pretty much heard them all. Blagojevich touched all the ritual bases. He recalled the sacrifices of a sainted parent, recounted the struggles of the humble voters for whom he worked night and day, acknowledged and apologized for his ultimate offense — the crime of caring too much. "Charge it to my heart," he said, adding at another point, "Sometimes I get too frustrated. Sometimes maybe I get too impatient with the process." (See pictures of Rod Blagojevich.)

Won't forget, can't regret, what he did for the little guy.

Look, his eyes were dry, as were the mostly averted eyes of the uncomfortable lawmakers, who gazed at the ceiling, their desks, cell-phones — anywhere but at the man who was arrested in December after federal agents recorded him allegedly discussing the goodies he might receive in exchange for his appointment of Barack Obama's successor in the U.S. Senate. No one was willing to buy what Blagojevich was tepidly selling. The vote to oust him was unanimous, 59 to none.

Freud would have been intrigued by Blagojevich's frequent mentions of Richard Nixon in his many TV appearances this week. Nixon came up again in the state-senate soliloquy, which drew heavily on Nixon's signature blend of bathos, defiance, self-pity and implausibility. The same thing that tripped up Nixon felled Blagojevich: tapes, yes — but also the fact that the SOB-with-a-heart-of-gold act can work only if people are willing to believe that you might have a heart.

Like Nixon, Blagojevich specialized in collecting enemies only to find himself in need of some friends. He made the point repeatedly on Thursday that none of the charges against him have been proven in a legal sense — and that's true. Though U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has been investigating him for some time, Blagojevich has yet to be indicted, much less convicted. (See pictures of TIME's Watergate covers.)

But as Alexander Hamilton explained in the Federalist papers, impeachments are political, not legal, trials. They inevitably involve "animosities, partialities, influence and interest." Through years of tough-guy politics and bullying the legislature, Blagojevich had managed to stack all those factors against himself. And any whisper of sympathy he might have been able to squeeze from the senators a week ago, he strangled by first refusing to defend himself in Springfield, then swanning off to Manhattan to complain under the klieg lights about the unfairness of it all.

"He did not present any evidence to counter the sworn statements under oath," said Bill Haine, state senator from Alton, explaining his vote to toss the governor. He was the first senator to go on record after Blagojevich spoke, and the fact that he's a fellow Democrat indicated that the die was cast. "I wish him luck on his new Hollywood career," added Republican Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale. (See the top 10 scandals of 2008.)

In fact, Blagojevich had so completely alienated the court of impeachment that Lieut. Governor Patrick Quinn arrived in Springfield Thursday morning with a Bible in hand and a state supreme court justice ready to swear him in. There were reports that Blagojevich's personal possessions at the governor's mansion were already boxed up for the movers when he delivered his rambling speech.

There was one distinctive touch in Blagojevich's remarks — a rhetorical question posed again and again, with only slight variations:
"How can you impeach a governor when what we did was about helping families and kids?"
"I can't imagine how you can possibly throw me out of office for something that wasn't shown that I did."
"I've done nothing wrong ... How is it an impeachable offense for helping low-income families keep their health?"

How? Easy — by a roll-call vote.

Read "The Blagojevich Circus Comes to the State Senate."

See the top 10 unfortunate political one-liners.