Speaker Michael Madigan hugs Gov. Rod Blagojevich

The image of Governor Blagojevich and Speaker Madigan hugging at the Democratic National Convention was one for the books.  I’ve been reflecting on the Democratic love-fest for over a week now, not quite sure how to respond.  What does any of that mean?  What really happened?  Who started singing Kumbaya first?

According to news reports, Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. started things off with an apology to Rep. Bobby Rush.  Carol Marin tells the story:

On Wednesday morning at the breakfast meeting of the Illinois delegation, Rep. Bobby Rush rose to say a few words. Recovering from the aftershocks of radical cancer surgery, he is physically a shadow of his former self. But, like the good Baptist preacher he also is, Rush rose to the occasion, telling delegates the parable of the eagle and the storm.

“I am that eagle,” he declared.

Thanking those who had been supportive, Rush also noted “some who were not there, but that’s all right.”

He gave a nod to forgiveness, but didn’t name names.

Next up was Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. It isn’t clear that Rush was talking about Jackson, but there is no question they’ve been on a rocky road.

Jackson Jr. began his prepared remarks about unity, talking about burying the truckloads of hatchets that weigh down these Democrats.

And then it happened.

Jackson folded his speech in half. Stuck it in his breast pocket. And turned directly to Rush saying, “Bobby, if there is anything that I’ve ever done to offend you, I’m leaving it at this convention. You are my friend . . .”

For a second, every one of us was stunned.

Rush made his way to Jackson, Jackson jumped down from the dais and they hugged.

It was real. And touching.

Marin, arguably the sharpest political journalist in Chicago, said it was real.  If she saw authenticity, then that’s what happened.

Then Jackson apologized to Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed and State Senate Majority Leader Debbie Halvorson.  If these were also sincere, then kudos to Jesse.

Then Daley ran to Jesse.  According to Marin:

“Who else out here has been mad at me I haven’t figured out yet?” Jackson asked.

Mayor Daley jumped up and hugged Jackson. And Jackson was stunned. Tears sprang into his eyes.

And that, too, was real.

Finally, Gov. Blagojevich and House Speaker Madigan embraced, evidence that hell did indeed freeze over.  I’ll take Carol’s word that what she saw was real.

According to Rich Miller, some aides who apparently did not share in the love tried to downplay the loving:

“It’s all theater,” confided one top Blagojevich aide later in the day. A Madigan lieutenant pointed out that Madigan was the one who walked over to Blagojevich at Jackson’s urging and had to practically pry the governor out of his seat. No happy talk could be found.

But could it be that the aides de camp hadn’t gotten the message? That very evening, Madigan and Blagojevich continued their detente by sitting next to each other at the Democratic convention.

Miller posits any photographs of Illinois pols hugging Gov. Blagojevich would be tremendous cannon fodder for Republicans in upcoming elections.  No one wants to be seen with Blagojevich, whose popularity continues to plummet.

So what really happened at the Mile-High City?  Will the love-fest have any impact on policy in Illinois?  Will Gov. Blagojevich finally develop the capacity to treat lawmakers with civility?  Will Halvorson and Jackson exchange Christmas cards come December?  Will Daley and Jackson finally go out for a cold one?

I give Jackson credit.  Some movement toward reconciliation between he and Bobby Rush is welcome indeed.  Rush is an icon in Illinois and national politics, and Jackson is incredibly astute.

For too long, Illinois Democrats have wrangled over nonsense — egos colliding at the expense of the electorate.  If they don’t learn how to play together real soon, then Republicans deserve another crack at leadership.

That would be a shame.  Illinois needs to stay on a progressive track, and that won’t happen under Republican leadership.  Democrats need to dialog with Republican opposition and stop creating their own internal opposition factions.  This is more of a struggle with an obstructionist governor.

Rush and Jackson should meet again publicly, showing the rest of the Illinois Democratic Mile High Club that it was all for real.

The first time took guts.  The next steps will demonstrate character.