Is Blago Insane?

Insanity defense possible


The political class has chattered about it for years now: Is the governor nuts?

No, really, is he crazy?

This isn’t a joke; it’s been serious fodder coming from close observers who see in Rod Blagojevich behavior that is often described as erratic and delusional. Having allegedly plowed ahead with hatching farflung schemes such as auctioning off Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat knowing the federal investigators had him in their sights seems go beyond the pale of mere stupidity, but it's just the latest extreme oddity in what we might call Blagojevich's bizzaro world.

Now the rest of the world is asking: Is this guy off mentally unbalanced?

David Bernstein of Chicago magazine addressed the issue in his profile of the governor last winter.

“The governor's strange behavior has been fertile ground for local armchair psychologists,” Bernstein wrote. “Last summer, the downstate newspaper the Peoria Journal Star declared that the governor was ‘going bonkers.’ Privately, a few people who know the governor describe him as a ‘sociopath,’ and they insist they're not using hyperbole. State representative Joe Lyons, a fellow Democrat from Chicago, told reporters that Blagojevich was a ‘madman’ and ‘insane.’ ‘He shows absolutely no remorse,’ says Jack Franks, the Democratic state representative. ‘I don't think he gives a damn about anybody else's feelings. He tries to demonize people who disagree with him; he's got delusions of grandeur.’”

Blagojevich was never the sharpest knife in the drawer, but Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn said today that “something happened to him when he become governor. He became more isolated.” And more wacky.

“Some people think that the governor's behavior has turned more erratic in the past few years,” Bernstein wrote. “One reason, they suspect, could be Barack Obama's extraordinary rise. ‘Obama's ascendancy had a significant impact on this guy,’ says a Democratic lawmaker from Chicago. ‘Here's a lifelong plan that's been unfolding better than anyone could ever script - an unremarkable state's attorney becomes an unremarkable state representative, becomes an unremarkable congressman, becomes an unlikely governor. My God, everything's falling into place!”

And then he’s eclipsed by Obama.

That’s one theory, anyway.

And it’s true that Blagojevich has had presidential ambitions from the start.

But his behavioral problems started before Obama even won his Senate seat.

By the 2004 overtime session in Springfield, lawmakers had started to demand signed “Memorandums of Agreement” from the governor because they could no longer trust him to keep his word.

The phrase "pathological liar" began to course through the political sphere and comments questioning the governor's grasp on reality occasionally found their way into news stories.

Last July, a Blagojevich spokesperson was moved to respond to Tribune inquiries by stating “He’s not a sociopath."

And in September, responding to comments made by Mayor Daley, Blagojevich himself stated “I don’t think I’m cuckoo.”

Of course, he might be better off if he is.

When national political writers like Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo make cracks about an insanity defense, they don’t realize just how possible that may be.

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