Posted by: trickyguy | January 15, 2009

Dirty Illinois Politics and Poor Journalism

On January 2nd there was an article on CNN.com about Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich’s appointment of Roland Burris to fill the US Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama.  The author is Ruben Navarrette, a columnist for a paper in San Diego and a regular CNN contributor.  Here’s the link if you’d care to read it: http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/01/01/navarrette.senate/index.html.

Basically Mr. Navarrette is blatantly playing the race card by insinuating that the senate democratic leadership’s protests about the nomination and the irregularities surrounding it are because of Mr. Burris’ skin color.  You see, Mr. Burris is an African-American former state attorney general.

When Mr. Navarrette writes such things, and CNN publishes them, they perform three huge disservices and, in doing so, bring discredit upon themselves as journalists.

First, they ignore the firestorm of criticism related to the governor’s arrest on corruption charges and the fairly damning evidence that the bulk of those charges directly relate to his attempt to barter the senate appointment for personal gain.

This criticism hasn’t been only from whites, only from Republicans, or only from residents of Illinois.  It has been from politicians and ordinary citizens of every race and party who are outraged at such blatant co-opting of the system.  They are rightly worried whether Mr. Burris’ appointment had “strings” attached to it or not.  The whole thing smells of backroom politics.

Second, playing the race card ignores the fact that the US Senate leadership was formalizing their objections to the seating of Mr. Burris based on a senate rule that has been in effect for more than 125 years, and for which no exceptions have ever been made.  That’s right: no exceptions, neither for white senators, nor for black senators.

The senate requires the senator’s credentials to be signed by both the governor and the secretary of state.  The Illinois Secretary of State, Jesse White, refused (initially) to do so because of the cloud over Blagojevich.  Again, this is a rule that has been upheld without exception since the 1800’s.  Seriously, suggesting that the US Senate leadership just look the other way is like a baseball game where most innings end with three outs, but if you really whine enough, we’ll give you an extra at bat.  By playing the race card, Mr. Navarrette kicks sand in the face of everyone who plays by the rules, whether they like them or not.  He just wants a pass given because — well he doesn’t say why — he just says it’s not being given because Burris is black.

Last of all, and most important, everyone who is making this a racial issue — and that’s not just Mr. Navarrette — is taking the focus off where it should be.  The focus should be on Mr. Burris’ qualifications, his skills, his passion, the path that brought him to the steps of one of the most powerful and respected institutions in the world.  Every time we talk about race, we diminish the lifetime of accomplishments that even allow Mr. Burris to be considered for such an honor.

Yes, Mr. Navarrette and the others playing the race card have surely relegated Mr. Burris’ senate career to always having an asterisk next to it, some whispers will always follow in his footsteps (psst, yeah, he’s the one), it will always be in the backs of our minds.

Shame on you Mr. Navarrette.  Shame on you CNN.

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Responses

  1. I often wonder why the senate dems said it was racist to criticize Obama, but not Burris. I don’t think either criticisms were race-related.
    from
    http://www.smellytourist.wordpress.com

  2. I do not believe that Burris himself has ever really been criticized. And my post does not criticize him either.

    However, I believe it is wrong to label resistance to his appointment to the senate as racist.

    I think it has nothing whatsoever to do with Mr. Burris’ race.

  3. […] On January 2nd there was an article on CNN.com about Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich’s appointment of Roland Burris to fill the US Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama. The author is Ruben Navarrette, a columnist for a paper in San …[Continue Reading] […]

  4. QUOTE: Second, playing the race card ignores the fact that the US Senate leadership was formalizing their objections to the seating of Mr. Burris based on a senate rule that has been in effect for more than 125 years, and for which no exceptions have ever been made. That’s right: no exceptions, neither for white senators, nor for black senators.

    Response: There’s a small glitch in the system, and Harry Reid was aware of it. The 17th amendment gives the states top executive the constitutional power to appoint a replacement for any senator who fails to finish their term. Nowhere in the 17th amendment does his appointment rely on the signature of the Secretary of State. Harry Reid knows that a “senate rule” does not supercede constitutional law. That is why he folded like a cheap card table.

  5. While the essence of my post was to comment on whether or not race was an issue in the seating of Mr. Burris, you make an interesting point. I believe it was well-reported that the US Constitution gives the governor sole power to make the appointment. No one is disputing that.

    However, an important aspect of jurisprudence is the consideration of the spirit of the law in addition to the letter. This is why judges exist: to interpret the law. Otherwise a simple knowledge of the English language would suffice and we all know that is not the case.

    In this situation, the very real cloud over Mr. Blagojevich, and the troubling fact that his alleged crime was an attempt to broker this specific appointment for personal gain, creates a situation where the letter of the law must be challenged. To simply seat Mr. Burris without very careful consideration of the circumstances leading up to Mr. Blagojevich’s decision to appoint him, would taint the appointment, Mr. Burris, and in fact, the body as a whole.

    To use the 17th amendment, or any other law, to justify rubber stamping this appointment given the unique situation, is clearly wrong. And it is clearly something contrary to the spirit with which our Constitution was written — if not the exact letter.

  6. One could also say the same thing about Harry reid’s conduct in the matter. He personally called Illinois Secretary of State White and asked him not to sign the papers. Couldn’t that be seen as usurping Blagojevich’s power by a senator from another state?

    Reid had also called Blagojevich before his arrest and gave him a list of three names that he didn’t want appointed (all black) and two names that he’d like to see appointed (both white).

    Not only could this have caused issues with Reid trying to prove improprieties, but it could also cause him problems in his re-election bid in 2010 with blacks in his state. He had already been identified as the Democrat with the best chance of being unseated in 2010.

    A battle over seating the only black member of the Senate could have been the difference in being re-elected in 2010 and the Democrats losing their majority leader.

  7. Whether I like Harry Reid or not (and I don’t), he has every right to exert legal influence on the appointment process. (Again, I may not like it, but he has the legal right to do so.)

    The post I wrote is about bringing the racial card into it. Part of your response (2nd paragraph) seems to do that as well. If you are claiming racism is at play here, then say it.

    As I said in my original post, I do not believe that objections to Mr. Burris were racial, or for that matter, really directed at the person at all.

  8. […] That blog is at https://trickyguy.wordpress.com/2009/01/15/dirty-illinois-politics-and-poor-journalism/ […]


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