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Why Is Roland Burris Still A Senator?

In these days in which so many Americans are losing their jobs because of the economic crisis, it may be reassuring to know that one man holds on to his because of it.

Roland Burris is still in the U.S. Senate.

President Obama's spokesman urged Burris to reflect on what may be best for his future, which is how presidents remind other politicians that they can make them ambassadors — or non-entities.

Burris' colleague, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, says he told Burris that if he were in his place, he would resign.

But no one may be able to persuade Burris to do anything. He is a senator, after all. And at the age of 71, so widely portrayed as a man who bears false witness, he will probably not seek any political office or favor again. So the usual incentives for persuasion don't apply.

Mr. Obama can't coax Burris out of his seat by offering to make him U.S. ambassador to someplace warm that doesn't possess nuclear weapons — like Barbados. The Barbadians might say, "Send him to Jamaica."

He also can't be pressured by publicity. Burris has had as much scabrous publicity in recent weeks as a rehabbing starlet — and he's still senator.

Politicians, like philosophers, must be able to hold two opposing ideas in their mind at the same time. So Senate Democrats can play reformers, by calling on Burris to resign. But when he vows to stay, they know they can count on his vote. And they need every vote they can muster to pass Mr. Obama's ambitious, extensive and expensive proposed budget.

But if Burris were to resign, Illinois' new governor would have to appoint another interim successor for at least a month — someone of unassailable integrity.

But Nelson Mandela doesn't live in Chicago.

If the state holds a special election to pick a successor, it would give the Republicans at least a sporting chance to win — even while the last Republican governor finishes a prison term.

The Senate could convene an ethics inquiry. But that might prove more embarrassing for the senators who, just seven weeks ago, thought Burris sounded like an honest pol, if not a Boy Scout.

Voters in Illinois may say they are appalled and embarrassed. But please let me say, as a Chicagoan — we know how to cope with embarrassment.

In the end, all the party leaders who call for his resignation may be just as happy for Burris to stay where he is.

He may not be an Illinois politician — like Lincoln or Mr. Obama — whose profile will be chiseled in marble. But as long as he can lift a finger to vote, Roland Burris is a precious asset.

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Simon SaysSimon Says NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small