Just when the news of war, economic collapse, mass layoffs, another record-breaking winter and the post-holiday blahs were conspiring to bring us down, what should come to the rescue? Our much-derided neighbor to the south, the great state of Illinois!
After entertaining us for weeks with the sleaziest audiotapes since Watergate, Illinois is outdoing itself by sending Roland Burris to Washington, whether Washington wants him or not.
I particularly enjoyed the moment when Burris, at his departing press conference, was asked whether he had spoken lately to Gov. Blagojevich. His eyes widened in shock. Certainly not! The governor may have appointed him, but he wouldn't be caught dead talking on the phone to the man.
Obama hasn't been in touch, either, Burris added. I would guess not. The farther away from the circus around his former Senate seat the next president can get, the better.
When reporters asked Burris how he would manage to obey the subpoena to his patron's impeachment hearings in Springfield while he's in D.C., he declared, "I'm the magic man!," before returning to his main refrain: "I'm a U.S senator!"
"I am the junior senator from Illinois!" Burris declared repeatedly and prematurely. "I am a United States senator!" As for expecting him to respect a little old subpoena: "They cannot stop me from doing my senatorial duties!"
The Chicago Sun Times recently interviewed the Senate sergeant-at-arms, who said his office was preparing for Burris to try to force his way into the Senate chambers. And Burris was in fact turned away from the official swearing in; but now it looks as though he will be seated.
Burris is not exactly a model of senatorial decorum. But then neither is the junior senator from our neighbor to the north, Minnesota. Here is more fun and entertaining news from the Midwest: Sen. Al Franken!
Check out the YouTube video of Franken shaking it on Solid Gold as a Mick Jagger impersonator. This is video footage Norm Coleman probably replays over and over inside his head.
Franken, who was great on Saturday Night Live and good on Air America, may have found his true calling simply driving Republicans like Coleman and Bill O'Reilly nuts. Being a member of the Most Exclusive Club in the World, as Senate members like to call it, will give him an interesting new platform.
Meanwhile, Burris told Lynn Sweet, "We are proceeding very diplomatically, and we are proceeding with all concern about not creating any type of circus that will entertain the media."
As I see it, Burris' whole purpose is to entertain us. It makes a heck of a lot more sense than his other stated goals: to take the controversy over Blagojevich's corrupt appointment process out of the news, or to keep faith with the people of Illinois, who had no say whatsoever in his selection.
The people of Illinois could not have been blessed with a candidate more likely to embarrass them if he'd been handpicked by the people of Wisconsin.
Of course, he's also an embarrassment to Democrats generally, and Obama in particular. The whole Illinois Senate seat affair may turn into Obama's Whitewater: an endless source of right-wing conspiracy theories and guilt-by-association charges that capture the resentments of the minority party.
But if not for this, it would be something else. We can all hope Obama isn't as good as Bill Clinton was at giving ammunition to his detractors.
So enjoy the circus. Enjoy the inauguration. And squeeze every last drop of entertainment out of Washington that you can before the new Congress and the new administration have to tackle the real deal: the world that Bush has left us.
Ruth Conniff is the political editor of The Progressive.