Annie is 8. Amy is 15. Their father will be in federal prison when they graduate from high school, when Amy graduates from college and when both go through other rites of passage into young adulthood. They'll both be in their 20s when he is released in early 2024 after having served 85 percent of the 14-year sentence he was given Wednesday.
Their inevitable agonies were offered in mitigation at Blagojevich's sentencing hearing this week. Arguing for a lighter sentence, one of his attorneys noted that "a day away from their father is a lifetime" to them and read from a poignant letter Amy wrote to the judge:
"I need him here. I'll need him when my heart gets broken. I need him here for my dog, Skittles."
Of course she does. Every mother and father knows this. Kids survive and even thrive growing up with absent or deceased parents. They even do so without the financial support of a well-to-do grandfather that the Blagojevich girls will have. But the absence leaves a hole.
Which is why the piteous evidence about the vulnerable Blagojevich girls ought to have been entered in aggravation by government prosecutors — reason to bring the sentencing hammer down even harder.
When a loner commits a crime, he assumes all the risks of getting caught.
But when a family man or woman commits a crime, he or she spreads that risk around, placing innocent people — spouses, children, other dependents — in jeopardy of having to face the consequences of an arrest and conviction.
That makes the crime worse — more irresponsible, more reckless, more potentially damaging.
Yet these same wrongdoers have the gall to come before judges when they're about to be sentenced and beg, in so many words, "Go easy on me! Don't make my spouse and/or children suffer too!"
U.S. District Judge James Zagel offered the proper response to that contention early Wednesday afternoon during his remarks just prior to sentencing Blagojevich:
"Why did his devotion as a father not deter him from such reckless conduct?" the judge asked. The former governor's great love for his children "should have stopped him from … crossing the line."
When Blagojevich was scheming all the various ways he might exploit the power of his office to advance his personal interests, that was the time to think about Annie and Amy. When he was shopping around the U.S. Senate seat and trying to trade campaign contributions for official acts, that was the time to stop and wonder, are these unworthy and perilous deeds breaking faith with my daughters? Am I wagering their happiness and their respect for me in this high-stakes game of political corruption?
The responsibility of parenthood is enormous. It's supposed to cramp your style. It's supposed to keep you on a straighter, narrower path than the one you'd otherwise travel. It's a burden and inspiration, an angel on your shoulder that sometimes feels like a stone around your neck.
The most important pledge most people ever make is the implicit pledge to their children to do right by them, if not for them.
Those who break it deserve shame, not mercy.
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