"In matters like these," Rod Blagojevich writes in his new book, The Governor, "lawyers advise you to say nothing." That's not a bad suggestion in any legally sticky situation, and especially good counsel when the matter at hand is the alleged sale of the president-elect's newly vacated Senate seat to the highest bidder. But the former governor of Illinois isn't the type to keep mum. Hence his new book, subtitled The Truth Behind the Political Scandal That Continues To Rock the Nation.
Sadly, there isn't quite enough shocking material in the book to rock America. But with help from Slate's reading aid, you'll surely find enough absurdity to rock your next cocktail party.
The World's a Stage
In the wake of his arrest, Blagojevich recited Rudyard Kipling's poem "If" at a press conference. Although this display of learning was roundly mocked by the media, he continues to show his literary bent in The Governor, peppering his writing with references to Shakespeare.
Page 134: Blagojevich sees his whole life as a Shakespearean play—or, rather, many plays. After he's re-elected governor, Blagojevich complains about the hardships of a life in power: "And what we had just lived through was a personal tragedy. A story that has elements found in some of Shakespeare's tragedies. I see my political rise with the help of my father-in-law as having elements of Henry IV, Part Two and Henry V and culminating with my own personal battle of Agincourt: winning the gubernatorial election. What happened after I became governor is a story filled with elements from Othello, King Lear, and Julius Caesar; a story of intrigue, of jealousy, of manipulation, of unnatural familial behavior, and of betrayal. And while you're at it, you might as well throw in a little Richard the Third. Because when the story of my years as governor ends, I was left with neither a kingdom nor a horse. Or for that matter, even a car."
Elvis. And Jimmy Stewart. And Martha Stewart.
Blagojevich isn't just a highbrow type. Along with references to the Bard, he routinely cites figures from popular culture.
Page 114: After receiving word that he'd been elected governor of Illinois, Blagojevich "climbed the stage to the remix of the Elvis song, 'A Little Less Conversation, a Little More Action.' " He then told his supporters that "my heart was full, and that I had nothing but a whole bunch of Hunka Hunka Burnin' love for each and every one of you."
Pages 210-11: Before his impeachment, Blagojevich had the option to voluntarily step aside and keep his pay for two years. He compares this chance to the "scene in the Christmas classic It's a Wonderful Life where the George Bailey character, played by Jimmy Stewart, is offered a prominent, high-paying position in the biggest and most influential bank in town … by his family's longtime rival, Mr. Potter."
Page 174: Far and away the best page in The Governor, in which Blagojevich name-drops the Pharisees, Robert De Niro, Abraham Lincoln, Mark Antony, and Martha Stewart. The Martha Stewart passage is perhaps the strangest of all. "I don't know how to cook. I wouldn't even know how to boil an egg properly. I never cooked a turkey in my life. I hate to say I never even carved one. But Martha Stewart and I have something in common. We have both been the targets of federal prosecutors."
Sure, Blagojevich was caught on tape explaining that a Senate seat "is a fucking valuable thing"—but that's not the whole story.