Senator Oprah? O, imagine the possibilities!
As the federal prosecution nears the end of its corruption case against onetime Barack Obama ally and ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, jurors and the world hear the Democratic state chief executive caught on FBI wiretaps musing about appointing TV talk-show celebrity and billionaire Oprah Winfrey to a vacant Illinois U.S. Senate seat.
Oh, the possibilities in that move are almost beyond comedic comprehension.
The Chicago prosecution might rest as early as today, while the defense tries to delay its start. The voluble Blagojevich is accused of 24 counts of fraud, racketeering and extortion for misusing official powers and basically offering to sell or withhold state services for money or appointments -- if you can imagine such a thing in Illinois Democratic politics.
In Chicago such everyday activities are only crimes if you're caught. And for some reason the ...
... feds seem to be the only law enforcement authorities able to spot corruption in the Windy City. Some observers have started a pool on how long U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald will last there with so many Chicagoans in the White House willing to offer jobs to outsiders like Rep. Joe Sestak to move them out of the way.
Few people realize that ex-state Sen. Obama, a product of the Chicago apparatus, is up for an Emmy for Daytime Comedy for his earnest lectures of Afghan President Hamid Karzai on the awfulness of political corruption and the urgent need to expunge it in some places.
As it happened, Blagojevich ended up appointing machine journeyman Roland Burris to the vacant Obama Senate seat. No doubt purely on merit.
But for a while, Blago contemplated appointing Chicago's other big O, whose allegiance to Obama caused the TV hostess to break her showbiz vow of professed nonpartisanship to campaign for Obama. Then-Gov. Blagojevich, of course, knew that within his state's political culture any Senate appointee would have to be African American.
A gubernatorial aide is heard on an FBI tape questioning the Winfrey choice: "Isn't it just simply you're looking for a celebrity to be your friend?"
"No, not at all," Blagojevich responds. "This one, she's so up there, so high, that nobody can assail this pick. This would be huge."
Winfrey probably would never have accepted; she makes the $174,000 annual congressional salary in minutes outside of Capitol Hill, and she'd have to mingle with mere millionaires in the Senate.
But picture a Senate committee hearing produced by her Harpo Productions:
No more half-circle tiered rows of senators peering down their bifocals demanding to be called "Senator." Everyone would have easy chairs and couches (see photos). None of those microphones sticking up their nostrils. A pair of lapel mics for everyone.
Senators of both genders would finally have to wear makeup and jazz up their wardrobes with color. Toss the black and gray garb. And learn their lines or risk being cut off.
If any speaker drones on for more than a few sentences, WHACK! The gavel sounds just like with Judge Judy. And we go to commercial break.
When a senator proclaims his genuine interest in ordinary Americans and devotion to taxing rich people like himself, cue the laugh track. Loud.
Boxes of tissues everywhere for when witnesses reveal their personal tribulations and urgent need for federal windmill grants. Everyone at home could vote on the Yea or Nay Witness Lines on whether the day's testimony was good enough to go into the Congressional Record.
A small band on hand with a bald leader to fill the breaks with movie music.
Big canned applause when Senator O enters the spotlight through her own door. And even huger applause when she announces that every witness and member of the committee room audience that day gets a special low rate on a Countrywide mortgage plus a new GM car. An electric one, complete with 14 miles of cord.
The witness voted Best Testifier of the session would get several years of rent-free apartment living from a BP advisor.
Talk about change to believe in, finally blowing "Ellen" out of the water. And can you imagine what Senator Oprah would do for C-SPAN's ratings -- even on mid-summer July mornings like this?
-- Andrew Malcolm