Rooftop Revelations: Rod Blagojevich on the failures of modern-day politics

on Feb19
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In an ever-polarizing nation, community leaders rarely place the true needs of their constituents before politics. It is not hard to see why when so much money and power is tied to political agendas, narratives, and policies that often benefit politicians over the people. After all, how can anyone look at the South Side of Chicago over the last 70 years and claim that politicians made the true and hard choices to help the locals lift up their community? 

On the 91st day of his 100-day rooftop vigil to raise funds to build a transformative community center on the South Side of Chicago, the pastor hosted the former Illinois governor, Rod Blagojevich, for a campfire chat. They once stood on the opposite sides of the political aisle but as the snow swirled around them they found common ground. 

After a warm welcome, the pastor asked Blagojevich what brought him to the South Side. 

“I want the people out there who are listening to know the great work that you’re doing. It’s all about creating opportunities, as you say, for young people. Keep them off the streets, keep them out of those gangs and get them in the places where they can do constructive things,” Blagojevich replied. “That’s the American dream. The land of opportunity. But for too many kids there hasn’t been an opportunity, and what you’re providing is opportunity and hope.”

“Absolutely. People are going to ask me, ‘Okay, pastor, why do you have a former Democratic governor on the rooftop talking to you?’ And my answer to that is when you were the governor, I was on the opposite side. I’m a conservative Republican. So a lot of the policies that you had in place, I didn’t agree with,” the pastor said. “(But) you always allowed me to talk with you…and I appreciated that.”

The pastor then asked: “When you were serving as the governor, did you feel like any of your policies were wrong policies?”

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“It won’t surprise you, but I really think I was a great governor and did a lot of good things for real people. Healthcare for all of our children. Free public transportation for our seniors, for the disabled. Preschool for three and four-year-olds. I would not raise taxes on the people. Even though my fellow Democrats wanted a big income tax increase, I wouldn’t do it. We moved the money around to make it work for people.” 

Blagojevich then got to the pastor’s question: “One area where I think I could have done a lot better is in the area of providing clemencies and pardons to men and women who were over-sentenced. We did about 60 of them when I was governor. I learned some hard lessons on the long journey I was in. For your listeners who don’t know, I was the former governor of Illinois and former inmate number 40892424. And needless to say, it was a lot better being governor — food’s a lot better.”

Blagojevich was found guilty of trying to sell President Barack Obama’s Senate seat among other charges. In 2020, President Donald Trump pardoned Blagojevich, who was released from prison four years earlier. 

“I didn’t break a law across the line or take a penny. It was all politics. And those corrupt prosecutors did to me what they tried to do to President Trump,” Blagojevich said. 

“When people put bad policies in place from a political point of view, what does that do to communities like ours?” the pastor asked.

“I think one of the bad things about some of the bad policies are the policies that don’t really do anything for people. They claim they do, but they don’t. They call them half measures dressed up as solutions. And I hate to indict my own party, but too many Democrats today are more interested in lip service than actually providing real service,” Blagojevich answered. “Among the reasons why we have so much crime in Chicago, and this neighborhood here on the South Side is so riddled by gang warfare and gang crime, is because politicians haven’t been willing to do the hard and necessary things to provide alternative opportunities for kids to do things like learn the trades.”

The pastor nodded in agreement. 

“I can tell you from my experience here in Illinois, the Democrat Party in Illinois, that I fought my own party over the issue of a vocational training for young black kids. Young black kids were not allowed to do vocational training in the trades in Illinois for decades. And the Democrat Party, ironically, was the one that supported policies that kept black kids out of those trades. And so I think a lot of what’s wrong with our country today and here in Chicago and in the state of Illinois are political leaders. Too many of them in my party, the Democrat Party, really don’t want to solve problems.”

“Why?” 

“Because they want to keep large constituency groups, largely black people in a place where they’re dependent on them and dependent on government rather than actually lifting them up and giving them a chance to get ahead and not have to look to government for their solutions. That’s why vocational training that you’re doing for your community center is so important. Because those kids who can learn those skills and get into the trades will get good jobs, good paying jobs. They’ll get ahead. They’ll become part of the middle class and maybe more if they start their own businesses.”

“How is it then that the Democrats can be so effective in keeping blacks voting for them?” the pastor asked. 

“I could talk about this issue for hours. We don’t have that, I know, but I’ll say a couple of things. First, what happened to black people in American history is a terrible tragedy. It’s the original sin of our country. And to this day, we’re still trying to undo that sin,” Blagojevich said. “So there are very real grievances that black people have about how they’ve been treated in the United States, in our history: slavery, segregation, Jim Crow, separate but equal. A lot of that had to do with the old Democrat party that was behind segregation and Jim Crow.

“Having said all of that, the modern Democratic Party, they keep the votes of black people by doing a little bit here and a little bit there, but not nearly enough to fundamentally change things and improve things. They make it so that government becomes the only place where the community can go to for solutions. They make it harder for individual enterprise and businesses to grow and develop because they’re not willing to do the hard things to keep neighborhoods safe.

“And as a result of that, a vicious cycle occurs of dependency, which encourages single-family homes, the absence of dads in the home, and abandonment of the old and precious moral values that are taught in black churches, which are so fundamental. 

“And because of that, because of the grievances, it’s very easy to point fingers and blame other people. And so when you do that and you’re so cavalier about playing the race card, which is what a lot of the today’s Democrats do…it’s unhelpful and it pushes people apart and doesn’t bring them together. And it makes, I believe, white America a little less open-minded about the real difficulties that black America faces.

“This new neo-racism that is out there where, instead of bringing people together, irrespective of the color of their skin, they’re starting to divide people, even in our schools, racially. I think that’s going backwards, not forwards. And it’s done for cynical political reasons — because if you can keep a community that votes 90% to 95% for one party, like the black community does, angry at the other part of the community, you keep that big vote. And it’s cynical politics, and, frankly, it’s immoral and it’s wrong.”

“Absolutely,” the pastor agreed. “If you were still the governor, knowing all the things now, experiencing all the things now, what would you do?”

“That’s a very good question. Am I a Democrat governor or am I a Republican governor? What am I on the ballot?”

“Definitely a Republican governor.”

“It is a Republican governor?”

“I mean, what other party is it?”

“Look, I think the American people, and I think here in Chicago and in Illinois, pastor, I think people are getting tired of the hyper-partisan politics where we’re so divided and that one side has to be all for one thing and the other side has to be all for the other thing, because neither party has all the answers.”

“Correct.”

“I do think that today’s Democratic Party is a very different party than the one I was in. This is not the party of John F. Kennedy. This party’s gone so far left, so far away from the values that have made America great that I don’t recognize it. So I don’t think I would be a leader along those lines. I think I’d be more interested in trying to find new ideas and new solutions to old problems,” Blagojevich said.

He continued: “For example, how do we do a better job of making sure the police work with community leaders and regain the trust of the community? Because they are necessary to keep us safe. How do we support the police as opposed to try to defund the police or abolish the police? What do we do about improving our public schools? I went to public schools here in Chicago. I’m a product of the public school system. I wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire when I went there, but I still was able to get ahead and become the governor of Illinois. But shouldn’t we be thinking about new ways to improve education? What about the idea of giving moms and parents choices on where they send their kids to school?”

“Yeah. Absolutely.”

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“Why are we so stuck in that old politics and the old way? I know why: cynical political calculations,” Blagojevich said. “But I think people are tired of that and the American people deserve better and they deserve political leaders who are willing to step outside and try and do things and attempt and find new solutions to old problems. And I think some of the things that you’re talking about doing here with this community center is exactly that.”

“Absolutely. Last question: we’re up here on this roof and we’re talking about all the issues in Chicago, issues that we’re facing in America, what’s the path forward?” the pastor asked.

“It is to live up to the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, of creating what he called the Beloved Community, and that was a community that was based upon people who didn’t look at the color of somebody’s skin. They looked at the contents of their character. It was a community based upon love and a community that was predicated on a devotion to those old and precious moral values that have always been right,” Blagojevich replied. “And you can find them in the bible, and you can find them also in other places…

“I would ask myself periodically when I was governor…what (was) it that I would want for my family?…In other words, the golden rule…doing unto others as you would want them to do unto you…That’s how we create the Beloved Community and make our country create again.”

“Absolutely. Well, listen, it’s been awesome,” the pastor said gratefully. “I appreciate you coming to the rooftop to share your thoughts, viewpoints, and opinions, and you’re always welcome.”

“Thank you, Pastor Brooks. And I want to make a campaign promise to you if that’s okay,” Blagojevich said. “I’m sleeping over tonight, but I want all your listeners to know this ain’t a one-night stand. I’m coming back. I’m committed to the cause.”

Follow along as Fox News checks in Pastor Corey Brooks each day with a new Rooftop Revelation.

For more information, please visit Project H.O.O.D.

Eli Steele is a documentary filmmaker and writer. His latest film is “What Killed Michael Brown?” Twitter: @Hebro_Steele.

Camera by Terrell Allen.



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