A federal jury appeared to end former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's long-running drama when it found him guilty last week on 17 of 20 federal counts of corruption, including charges that he tried to sell President Obama's former U.S. Senate seat.
After Blagojevich's sentencing, an uncharacteristically subdued version of the usually motor-mouthed Democrat faced TV cameras to say he was "disappointed" and "stunned."
Indeed, he gave us his best razzle-dazzle and it fizzled.
"Give 'em the old razzle-dazzle," sang Billy Flynn, the slick slimeball lawyer played by Richard Gere in the movie version of the musical "Chicago."
The musical is based on a 1926 play of the same name by Maurine Dallas Watkins, who based it on a trial she covered as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. The musical is notable not only as a satire on corruption, but also for its downright prophetic take on the impact that media-generated celebrity criminals have on the justice system that media cover.
When the musical opened on Broadway in 1976 to a so-so run, its view of media manipulation and lawyer corruption seemed too cynical and cliched. But it returned to much greater success in the 1990s. After the O.J. Simpson murder trial, "Chicago" found its audience or, more precisely, the audience found its message to be right on point.
"What if your hinges all are rusting?" sings Flynn. "What if, in fact, you're just disgusting? Razzle-dazzle 'em, and they'll never catch wise."
I could hear that song in the background as I watched the indicted Blagojevich take off on his nationwide razzle-dazzle media tour during his first federal corruption trial. While most other indicted public officials might shrink from the public eye, Blagojevich reveled in its unblinking gaze. At every opportunity, he enthusiastically argued his case and tried to polish his image.
His defense amounted to a Chicago equivalent of "the criminalization of politics," a buzz phrase made popular by defenders of President George W. Bush's advisers, former House Republican leader Tom DeLay and other Republicans whom Democrats had charged with a "culture of corruption." It is not surprising that Blagojevich would take the same tack in Illinois, where a culture of corruption has long provided material for the entertainment and literary worlds.
Blagojevich hardly helps Illinois rise above its reputation for corrupt politicians. His Republican predecessor, George Ryan, remains in prison after his conviction on corruption charges in 2006.
But I take a rosier view. I hope Blagojevich's conviction shows signs that Illinois' infamous culture of corruption and that of other states can be matched by a promising culture of reform and correction. His desperate defense, cheerfully arguing that it was OK to talk about shakedowns, arm-twisting and kickbacks as long as it was on behalf of "the people," showed a breathtaking cluelessness as to what the public really expects of its public servants -- or should expect.
Even in this era of indicted politicians like Blagojevich and DeLay appearing on TV shows (the latter competed on "Dancing With the Stars" while awaiting his trial and corruption conviction), Blagojevich's jurors showed a refreshing ability to see through the old song and dance.