Rod Blagojevich, the Chicago Democrat who as governor of Illinois gravitated to the media spotlight like a moth to a candle, made another appearance before the cameras last week as he was escorted away to prison.
Blagojevich’s foreseeable future will not be spent at the Watergate Correctional Spa and Tennis Club. He’s sentenced to 14 years at a real federal prison in Colorado, one with stone walls and razor wire and khaki jumpsuits and the close company of cellmates. He’s Inmate 40892-424, and he reportedly will be doing routine menial labor at the prison equivalent of minimum wage -- 12 cents an hour.
His fate is not an occasion for celebration. His crimes, and the punishment he so richly (no pun intended) earned, have been the cause of much suffering among innocent people, including a wife and children.
But a little grim satisfaction (and maybe not so grim) is not altogether inappropriate.
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Law and order advocates, which in a nation of laws ought to mean all of us, believe wholeheartedly that serious crime merits strict punishment -- for its deterrent value, and simply because we believe it’s justice.
The glaring exception -- one that consistently undermines Americans’ faith that justice is anything more than an abstraction or pure political cant -- is the apparent indemnity of the wealthy, the powerful, the politically connected.
If we profess to believe harsh punishment has deterrent power for car thieves and liquor store robbers, then surely the same principle applies to political crooks like Blagojevich or executive suite felons like any of a dozen you could quickly reel off from the headlines of the last few years. (As it happens, one of Blagojevich’s fellow inmates is Enron thief Jeff Skilling.)
It applies to those responsible for willful negligence that claims human lives, whether at a sugar plant in Georgia or an oil rig in the Gulf -- a callous, arrogant depravity that reminds us some consciences haven’t evolved beyond the Triangle Shirtwaist sweatshop of a century ago.
Rod Blagojevich’s isn’t just an Illinois story. It’s a Georgia story, an Alabama story, an American story. It’s a real-life parable of real-life justice, a welcome reminder that sometimes even high-level criminals really do get what they deserve.
Blagojevich, who has yet to show anything remotely resembling remorse, said he still believes that “this is America, this is a country that is governed by the rule of law, that the truth ultimately will prevail.”
Most of us believe that in this case, it already has.