The Roland Burris affair is a sober reminder that truth is stranger than fiction.
The whole mess is eerily reminiscent of the 1939 Frank Capra movie classic “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” starring Jimmy Stewart.
In the movie, a governor has to pick the replacement for a deceased U.S. senator. Mr. Smith hails from a state that is run by a corrupt political machine. The governor is urged to choose a hand-picked hack, but others want to buck the establishment and urge the appointment of a reformer.
The governor decides to flip a coin: heads it’s the hack, tails it’s the reformer.
To the great shock of the machine, the reformer is chosen. The reformer happens to be a fellow who has a wholesome image and heads the Boy Rangers. The leadership of the Senate believes this man to be a rube and someone who can be easily manipulated.
Although, not the choice of Senate leadership, they see this as an opportunity to control him and his votes. You will have to watch it to see how it ends, just like we all have to sit back and watch the Burris drama play out.
Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, under the imminent threat of impeachment, criminal indictment, and an all-out assault on his powers, in affect flipped a coin and picked Obama’s replacement. He did so strictly for selfish reasons to shift the focus away from his own sordid problems.
The Illinois and U.S. Senate wanted the governor not to appoint at all. They wanted to select their own candidate. They did not want to call for a special election because they were not sure that they would be able to keep the seat at the ballot box in two years.
The man in the middle, just like the character in the movie, is a good, decent man. Burris is a guy who is not acceptable to the political machine of the state or the leadership of the Senate. He is, however, qualified and has a distinguished record of public service.
The dog and pony show that we have seen unfold in the past few days, with regard to the treatment of Burris by the leadership of his own party, is regrettable. The way they have handled this whole affair shows a party and leadership drunk with power, even before they take it.
The problem with Burris is that he was not the choice of the machine. The fact that a disgraced governor appointed him should not disqualify the appointee.
Burris is a qualified individual and should be judged on his own merit; he should not be labeled guilty by association. Furthermore, it is clear that this governor had the power to appoint, successor to the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama. The Senate should seat him forthwith.
Burris should long remember the way he was treated by his Senate colleagues.
In this instance, Burris’ biggest supporters were not Democrats; they were Republicans who stood shoulder to shoulder with him. We did so not because we are agreeing with his political philosophy, we did so because we believe in the Constitution.
Brad Blakeman is a Republican strategist and former Bush White House aide.
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