That Moldy Opportunist

On Wednesday of this week, Neil Steinberg from the Chicago Sun-Times wrote a really clever, really helpful assessment of the State of the Impeachment. Here's a representative piece:

Were I teaching the novel Our Political Moment, I would try to draw my students into seeing how the author -- in this case, fate, or God if you prefer -- so handily supplied [Roland] Burris, that moldy opportunist, rising out of his political grave to dog [Barack] Obama's inauguration.

"Why is he there?" I'd purr, eyebrows raised, spurring the class with a quizzical look.

Perhaps as foreshadowing -- should Obama eventually be caught straying from the straight and narrow. Perhaps to give our story a Gothic twist -- [Rod] Blagojevich is not yet dead, but his ghost child, Burris, haunts the ramparts; his remarks lifted from the speeches of Shakespearean clowns, grandly struggling to turn his benefactor's cheap stunt into democracy's bright lamp.

That's why I don't write fiction -- you can't make this stuff up.

I see the two major players in Illinois's political scandal in really only two dimensions; I describe them each in only one word. For Governor Blagojevich that word has been, since prior to his first gubernatorial election, twerp. I've already explained that here, so I won't go into it. But Roland Burris is a late entry into my political consciousness. For all his much-ballyhooed life of service--elected thrice to statewide office, blah blah blah--I'm discovering him as we go. Whereas Illinois and federal officeholders are tripping over themselves to show Burris due respect for his political tenure, however, I have nearly no power (including, as of yesterday, significantly less purchasing power--but I'm not bitter) and consequently significantly less accountability. So I choose for Burris the word opportunist.

Not "moldy opportunist." You'll have to talk to Steinberg about that one.

Burris isn't the first person in the annals of power that I've reduced to the word opportunist. He's only the most recent. But in his company, he would be sorry to learn, is a fictional icon of opportunism, Lex Luthor. I wrote about Luthor in my first book, Comic Book Character (which, probably, can technically no longer be called a book--but I'm not bitter):

Motivated, apparently, entirely by self-interest, [Luthor] has built himself a material empire by outwitting and usurping anyone who gets in his way. He has a knack for turning adversity into opportunity, even turning the sale of his soul to to the devil to his own advantage. . . . Luthor, convinced that his successes in life prove his worldview correct, is stymied by Superman's great power and apparent altruism. Since they inhabit the same city, their paths often cross. Superman's agenda is straightforward--truth and justice--but Luthor's vendetta against him is nuanced by his obsession with power. Given the right set of circumstances, Luthor will go the extra mile to help Superman out.

Luthor's opportunism is fueled by narcissism; in issue 123 of Superman he co-opts messianic language to describe his own exploitation of Superman's plight: “As always, the question is this: do I gain more from Superman’s suffering—or his salvation?” Power consolidated through the methodical manipulation of people and events. Ripped right out of the headlines, no?

Take away his less savory plots of world domination--causing California to sink into the ocean, killing his parents, selling his soul to the devil, what have you--and Lex Luthor begins to look a little bit like Roland Burris. He sees an opportunity and takes it. He takes someone else's lemons and sells lemonade to his neighbors. He creates a political circus and denounces his opponents' political theatrics. He gets a senate seat (and a senate pension) for free while watching his benefactor go down the tubes for trying to sell it. Yes, if I were forced to choose one word to describe senior statesman Roland Burris--and let's face it, no one's got a gun to my head--that word would be opportunist. It would most decidedly not be Senator.


Oh, out of fairness to the reader, I should note that my thoughts on Lex Luthor once inspired the only time someone offered to pay me to stop writing. But I'm not bitter.

Oh, and in other comic-book news, check out the story on Spider-Man declaring Barack Obama "Nerd-in-Chief." Junot Diaz is right: we do find ourselves square in the Nerd Age.


Anonymous said…
I would like to add that Burris is gutless. He stood in a church with the likes of Bobby Rush while he declared us all bigots...not having the guts to say it himself. He was happy to let Rush do his dirty work.
David Zimmerman said…
Rush Limbaugh is supporting Roland Burris?!?

I'd rather have Senator Bobby Rush than Senator Roland Burris; I trust Bobby Rush to at least contend for something; at this point I trust Roland Burris only to pad his 401k.

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