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Dems should tackle the economy, not Roland Burris

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No question: Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is a foul-mouthed creep as well as an alleged crook. But even if he did try to sell Barack Obama's Senate seat to the highest bidder, as charged, there's no evidence that he persisted after his efforts were outed by a federal investigation. The law says two things: (1) He's still governor of Illinois and, therefore, has the legal right to name Obama's successor (2) He's innocent until proven guilty.

So why are Democrats wasting so much time trying to block 71-year-old Roland Burris from taking a Senate seat -- Obama's -- to which he was legally appointed? Is there any evidence that Burris greased Blagojevich's palm? Not that anyone has disclosed. Is there any evidence that Burris was on the take during a career that included a stint as Attorney General of Illinois? Again, not that anyone has reported. Is it likely that, at age 71 and as the beneficiary of an appointment that comes under storm clouds, Burris will wrap up the Senate seat for years to come? No.

Those are but three reasons why Democrats should get on with the nation's business instead of their own posturing. If they don't stop trying to look Holier than Thou, it could well blow up in their faces and slow much-needed legislation. Today, as other senators are sworn in, Burris has said he'll show up at the Senate to take his seat. Do Democrats really want to turn his arrival into a photo-op of the '60s South, complete with security guards escorting the only African-American senator out of the chamber? Do they want the story to lead the news for the next several weeks when Americans desparately need Congress to move forward on a stimulus that creates jobs and starts to right the economy?

Let Roland Burris be. He's neither a nut nor a novice. He's a lifetime public servant, whose only apparent sin is that he's an ambitious but not terribly charismatic politician. Democrats should seat him in the U.S. Senate and then move swiftly and soberly to hold impeachment hearings for the governor, who truly does smell like a rotten fish.

It's true. Blagojevich's nomination of Roland Burris taints the nominee with guilt by association. But if that were the standard for unseating a politician of either party, there would be a whole lot of empty desks on Capitol Hill when the new Congress convenes.

 

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Jerry Lanson teaches journalism at Emerson College in Boston. He's been a newspaper reporter, columnist, writing coach and editor. His latest book, "Writing for Others, Writing for Ourselves," was published in January by Rowman & Littlefield.

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