The Hubris And Chutzpah Of Rod Blagojevich Why would the embattled Illinois governor tap someone to fill the very Senate seat he is accused of trying to sell? Observers say his critics-be-damned announcement smacks of hubris. Then again, coming out swinging makes sense for the former Golden Gloves boxer.
NPR logo The Hubris And Chutzpah Of Rod Blagojevich

The Hubris And Chutzpah Of Rod Blagojevich

Sen. Gary Hart invited reporters to follow him. They caught him monkeying around with model Donna Rice, seen here sitting on his lap in 1987. National Enquirer/Getty Images hide caption

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National Enquirer/Getty Images

Sen. Gary Hart invited reporters to follow him. They caught him monkeying around with model Donna Rice, seen here sitting on his lap in 1987.

National Enquirer/Getty Images

Under a cloud of suspicion for perhaps trying to sell a Senate seat, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich let loose a lightning bolt Tuesday: He appointed Roland Burris, 71, to serve out the U.S. Senate term of President-elect Barack Obama.

The selection flew in the face of the Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill, the Illinois secretary of state and even the president-elect. All of them warned that any Blagojevich appointee would be tainted by scandal and face rejection.

While no one is questioning the bona fides of Burris — a former Illinois attorney general — many are pondering Blagojevich's move and his motive. Observers say the governor's critics-be-damned announcement smacked of hubris.

"People don't run for high office out of any lack of self-confidence," says David Boaz, executive vice president of the libertarian Cato Institute. "And they get so used to people laughing at their jokes and agreeing with whatever they say that they do come to think they're somebody special." And they often do what they darn well please.

The Hall Of Hubris

Literature is littered with tales of hubris, featuring prideful characters — Julius Caesar, Dr. Faustus, Dr. Frankenstein, etc. — who bask in arrogance and receive their comeuppances.

History books are thick with those who, to paraphrase songwriter Paul Anka, did it their way: Napoleon, Douglas MacArthur, the executives of AIG.

But a whole wing of the Hall of Hubris belongs to American politicians. There's Sen. Gary Hart, who denied having an affair with Donna Rice and famously invited reporters to follow him around — only to be caught monkeying around with Rice on a yacht, appropriately named "Monkey Business." There's Bill Clinton, who wagged his finger at the country and said he did not have sex with Monica Lewinsky. Over there is former New York governor and law-and-order stickler Eliot Spitzer, who was caught using the services of a prostitute.

While those men were led astray by their libido, George W. Bush cited guidance from God when he ignored contradictory intelligence and took the nation to war. He pushed through — or tried to — a number of unpopular appointments, including Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court and John Bolton to the United Nations.

Rawhide Stubbornness

Is the mop-haired Blagojevich such a man — someone who believes he can do whatever he wants? Richard Schott thinks he may be. "Many politicians are attracted to the job since they enjoy and often need to exercise power over others," says Schott, a University of Texas professor and author of People, Positions, and Power: The Political Appointments of Lyndon Johnson.

Often, politicians "seem to be quite narcissistic and may have a narcissistic personality disorder," Schott says. "The world revolves around them, and their reality testing is impaired."

In Johnson's case, political appointments were usually made on merit. But, Schott says, pettiness and rawhide stubbornness occasionally kicked in. "Johnson generally had the cojones to surround himself with persons of disparate views," Schott says. "However, his hatred of Robert Kennedy led him to reject out of hand any candidate who had even been rumored to have associated with him."

As for Blagojevich, a former Golden Gloves boxer, he's going down fighting.

'I've Enjoyed The Limelight'

At an earlier news conference, Blagojevich quoted "If," a poem by Rudyard Kipling that encourages a man to speak the truth — though it will be "twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools" — and warns readers to never let foes or "loving friends" hurt them. In other words, ignore all counsel and do what you please.

This time around, Blagojevich introduced his Senate pick. Burris "will be a great United States senator," Blagojevich told reporters. "Please don't allow the allegations against me to taint this good and honest man."

A beaming Burris said he was honored by the appointment, coming at a time when citizens are "confronted with a crisis of faith in our own leadership." Burris is no stranger to political pride: Politico reports that he has already erected a monument, listing his own achievements, at a Chicago cemetery.

A feisty, upbeat Blagojevich stood beside Burris at the news conference podium and even invited Bobby Rush, a Democratic congressman and former Black Panther, on stage to say a few words. It was like a pilot for "The Blago Show."

"I've enjoyed the limelight I've had over the last couple of weeks," the governor quipped to reporters.

There is a chance that, for all of his brass and bluster, Blagojevich might know what he is doing. Boaz of the Cato Institute says Blagojevich is being "more canny" than it might appear. The embattled governor has appointed a respectable, older, African-American official who probably wouldn't plan to run for re-election, Boaz says, and perhaps has "checkmated the Senate Democrats."

Of course, that's only one possible scenario. When hubris is involved, there's no telling how the drama will unfold.