People who know me are aware that I often rise at a grisly hour of the morning to row. There are a variety of advantages to this, including being too confused for lack of sleep to have that debate about whether I should work out or keep writing. The best one, however, is that I hear the first half hour of National Public Radio’s Morning Edition on the way to the boat house. I have six miles of a workout in a single scull to think uninterrupted about whatever I have heard, and I can listen to the same stories again on the way back and decide whether any of them are worthy of a blog post.
Which is how I decided to write about yesterday’s closing arguments in the Rod Blagojevich trial. Blagojevich, you may recall, is the former Governor of Illinois. He is being tried on multiple counts of corruption, including attempts to sell the Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama. Defense counsel Sam Adams, Jr. made the argument we might expect: that the government’s case is manufactured and that prosecutors have twisted circumstantial evidence to make the defendant appear to be corrupt.
Blagojevich is also, according to his attorney, a compulsive talker, and says all kinds of things that he either doesn’t mean or that are open to interpretation by others. (“Never tell anyone outside the family what you’re thinking again.”)
But what explains all the evidence, and the witnesses who testified for the prosecution? They misunderstood “negotiation” for “extortion,” that’s all, and maybe Blogojevich should have said less and conveyed more clearly what he actually meant. Like, “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.” It appears that the logic of the defense’s position is that the former governor is “insecure” and not “the sharpest knife in the drawer.”
Wondering about the corny Mafia theme? I haven’t told you yet about Adams’ sure-fire offensive ethnic humor strategy (law students, listen up):
At one point, the bombastic attorney launched into a story about his Italian grandmother, who shoots a mule dead after it stumbled three times. “Thatsa one! Thatsa two! Thatsa three!” Adam yelled, mimicking the accent.
When her husband called her stupid for shooting the mule, she warned him: “Thatsa one!”
Is this — or is this not — a great Chicago story? What NPR doesn’t mention is that this little parable actually illustrates political bullying at its best.
And now, as we settle in to the last month of summer, here’s a little more good advice from Don Radicale:
I am Claire B. Potter, Professor of History at The New School for Public Engagement, New York, NY. My specialties are feminism, political history and cultural criticism. Selections from my scholarly and public writing can be found here.
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Doing Recent History
Contributors to this collection, edited by Claire Potter and Renee Romano, consider the wide range of challenges the practice of contemporary history poses. These essays address sources like television and video games, the ethics of writing about living subjects, questions of privacy and copyright law, and the possibilities that new technologies offer for writing history. Doing Recent History offers guidance and insight to any researcher considering tackling the not-so-distant past. Buy the Book
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Claire Potter's is the first book to look at the structural, legal, and cultural aspects of J. Edgar Hoover's war on crime in the 1930s, a New Deal campaign which forged new links between citizenship, federal policing, and the ideal of centralized government.
War on Crime reminds us of how and why our worship of violent celebrity hero G-men and gangsters came about and how we now are reaping the results.