Only in Illinois can an ex-politician who bawled like a baby all day long in front of a federal judge get in front of microphones and say he "manned up".
That in itself made Wednesday's sentencing of disgraced ex-Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife, disgraced ex-Chicago Alderman Sandi Jackson, worth following.
I almost didn't follow the hearing for the reason I enumerated in a February analysis piece and related blog post after the couple pleaded guilty to using $750,000 in campaign contributions as their own personal piggy bank. As corrupt Illinois politicians go, the Jacksons were pretty gosh-darned dull and extremely unoriginal.
And as for the fact that two "social justice" crusaders lived a double standard? Bo-ring. That's the rule these days, not the exception – ask any mucky-muck calling for gun control behind a protective screen of taxpayer-funded bodyguards.
But I relented and glued myself to reporter Natasha Korecki's Twitter feed because I wanted to witness first-hand the end of the short era of truly punishing crooked Illinois politicians. Forget the long sentences imposed on former Govs. George Ryan [Federal Inmate 16627-424] and Rod Blagojevich [Federal Inmate 40892-424]. I knew that those days are over.
As a journalist who has written more than a few stories about Illinois politicians and associated sycophants and insiders going to prison, I can recite the pattern in my sleep: A sob-choked apology, a berating by the judge about shattering what pathetically little is left of the public trust, and then a slap on the wrist. And I wasn't disappointed. Jesse Jr. got 2 1/2 years, and Sandi one year.
How many politicians do you think would gladly go to a minimum-security Club Fed dorm for 2 years if it meant getting to spend $750,000 on vacations, celebrity knickknacks and stuffed elk heads? That's a very acceptable risk for such a plush rate of return.
Better yet, the Jacksons get to stagger their prison terms for their young children. If I stole $750, I'd go to prison for much longer than the 2 1/2 years Jesse Jr. got for stealing $750,000. And if I involved my wife in the crime, I'm sure the judge would laugh us out of the courtroom when we asked to schedule our terms so we could raise our 9-month-old daughter.
(As an aside, I'd like to apologize to baby Grace and all babies everywhere for comparing them to Jesse Jackson Jr. in the lead of this blog post.)
The Jacksons got off light, and they know it. And the signal sent Wednesday to every crooked Illinois politician – and there are plenty – is that happy days are here again for the political class leading the Illinois Orwell Animal Farm, where some animals are more equal than others.
So now that I've brought you down, let's have some fun as I introduce you my proposed Truth in Stupidity Law.
Truth in Sentencing laws exist at the federal and most state levels to make sure that criminals – gasp! – actually serve a good deal of their sentences. Under my proposed Truth in Stupidity Law, a judge can impose an extra year for any offense he or she deems mind-bogglingly bereft of sound judgment.
Under Truth in Stupidity guidelines, Jesse Jr. would have been sentenced to 10 years and his wife 6 1/2 years by adding the following offenses:
• A year each for buying mink coats, spa treatments and vacations while representing an impoverished Congressional district and South Side aldermanic ward. If you're curious and want to see it for yourselves, I suggest calling Delta Company at the Woodstock Armory and asking if they can spare you an armored personnel carrier for a few hours.
(The CO was my best pal in the Army when we were both NCOs, so tell him Sgt. Craver says it's OK. Just bring the APC back with a full tank of gas.)
• A year each for the twosome living in Washington D.C. and not their districts.
• A year each for having a defense team of eight attorneys when 99 percent of their former constituents would have to get the overworked, underpaid court-appointed one.
• A year for Jesse Jr. co-authoring a book with his dad, "It's About the Money!" about financial freedom, in large part through living within your means and not being stupid. This is real – I am not nearly clever enough to make up something like this.
• A year each for that Oscar-worthy performance they both gave Wednesday by crying because they got caught and the Day of Reckoning had finally come.
• A year each for two very anti-Second Amendment politicians buying elk heads. How do they think you kill an elk? By causing it to doubt its self-esteem?
• A year for Jesse Jr. for trying to ruin Van Halen for me by buying an Eddie Van Halen guitar. My baby girl smiles and dances when I play anything from the Diamond Dave era, and the thought of Jesse Jr. laying his corrupt hands on a red Frankenstrat is tough to get out of my head. (No slight intended to Sammy Hagar – I'm working my way with my daughter to 5150 and OU812.)
• A year each for not buying a Velvet Elvis or a large mural of dogs playing poker. No illegal spending spree is complete without a Velvet Elvis. Okay, six months each - I'll give them credit for buying the elk heads.
Don't hesitate to call your state and federal lawmakers to push for my Truth in Stupidity law. Their legislative aides stopped taking my calls some time ago because they're not ready for my good ideas.
And speaking of the federal government, I hope that President Obama resists any pressure he may get in the last weeks of his presidency to pardon the Jacksons. President Bill Clinton in the last weeks of his presidency commuted the sentence of Jesse Jr.'s predecessor, former U.S. Rep. Mel Reynolds, and pardoned former Rep. Dan Rostenkowski.
If long sentences are out of the question, can we, the frustrated people of Illinois, at least have the scarlet letter that comes with time served?
Senior Writer Kevin Craver can be reached at email@example.com.