The year's not over yet, but I think my first annual Basket Crab Award can safely be awarded to the we-hope-soon-to-be-former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
The prize, which I just made up, is awarded to the public figure who best exemplifies the often retold legend of the basket crabs: Every time one of them tries to get out of the basket, the others pull it back in.
So it is with the recently arrested governor, judging by his statements captured on a wiretap and reproduced on his criminal affidavit. Federal authorities led Blagojevich away in handcuffs last week on charges that, among other things, he tried to auction off to the highest bidder the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama. Some people are bold. Some are audacious. Blago, as my late daddy might say, was "bo-dacious!"
Fortunately for Obama, a tape recording of Blagojevich's frustration at the Obama camp's rebuff to his pay-for-play invitation makes the president-elect sound downright heroic.
Less fortunate is Democratic Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., who led other prominent contenders in a recent poll of Illinois Democrats. Thanks to Blago's banter, Jackson's hopes for a Senate seat have been effectively derailed, whether they deserve to be or not.
In his quotes, the governor sounds like the model of a cranky basket crab with his claws out for money. To him, the appointment of someone to fill Obama's seat is not a serious public duty but a blank check waiting to be cashed in for a pot of gold.
But when he's rebuffed by the Obama camp, the crab is plenty steamed. As U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald read from affidavit: "Quote, 'They're not willing to give me anything but appreciation. Bleep them,' close quote."
The "bleep," Fitzgerald patiently explained, "is a redaction."
Coming on top of the explicit exoneration offered by Fitzgerald, who ran this investigation, Blago's nasty words must have been music to Obama's ears. There's no higher praise than to be condemned by a scoundrel.
Questions remain. Obama denies that he or anyone on his staff communicated with the governor as to who should fill the empty seat. But that's not saying enough, especially after what's happened to his friend, the junior Jackson.
As the investigation unfolds, Obama is caught in a classic Washington trap: You shouldn't answer reporters' questions, your lawyers tell you, but if you don't answer the questions, the story hangs around like a cloud, feeding public suspicions and the propaganda machinery of your partisan critics and rivals.
But Obama's burden is minor compared to Jackson's. Weeks before Election Day, Jackson made no secret of his desire to be appointed to the seat if Obama won. He would have an easier time winning over Blagojevich, despite their past differences, than winning over downstate voters for whom his father's name was even less of a blessing than Obama's Arabic middle name.
But after the governor's arrest, one hopes Blago will have a hard time finding anyone, let alone Jackson, who would accept his appointment, if he were goofy enough to make one.
Worse for Jackson, the Chicago Tribune identified him Friday as "Senate Candidate 5." That's the now-famous name that prosecutors gave to a politician they allege to whom Blagojevich was considering awarding the senate seat in exchange for a promise to raise as much as $1.5 million for Blagojevich's campaign fund.
The emissaries, according to the Tribune, turned out to be Chicago businessmen with ties to Blagojevich and Jackson. Jackson's attorney and spokesmen denied that the congressman had asked the businessmen to do anything on his behalf.
Even if Jackson is telling the truth, the wheeler-dealer image of this news does not help him politically. Instead, the revelations hit his statewide political prospects like a load of bricks on the shoulders of a man who already is treading water.
I hate to see that, because I have admired the younger Jackson ever since he and his siblings presented the sort of wholesome family image at the 1988 Democratic National Convention for which Obama's family is known today. All along his political climb, he has tried to make up for the shortcomings that prevented his father from appealing to a wider audience.
Still, as he told me a few months ago, his name is both a political blessing and curse. He'll have to work a lot longer if he is ever to soften the resistance of those whose image of his dad gets in the way of their ability to know the son.