I have not seen it recorded whether John F. Kennedy, after he was elected president in 1960, held conversations with Massachusetts Gov. Foster Furcolo as to who would be appointed to fill his seat in the Senate. History does record that Furcolo, just nine days before turning the governorship over to the Republican elected to succeed him, appointed one Benjamin A. Smith II, a college roommate of Kennedy's and former mayor of Gloucester, who chose not to seek the seat in the next election in 1962, which happened to be the year in which Edward Kennedy turned 30 and was therefore old enough to run for it.
Memory tells me that there was little fuss made of this at the time. Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy obviously wanted someone appointed to keep the seat warm for Teddy, and so it was done. And Edward Kennedy has turned out to be an able and accomplished senator.
That was a different tableau from the one we have seen unfold in Chicago this past week. Furcolo was an intelligent man, disappointed to have failed to win the state's other Senate seat and destined not to win elective office again. But he knew that it would not pay to buck the Kennedys.
Rod Blagojevich, the governor who under Illinois statute has the power to appoint a senator to fill out the remaining two years of Barack Obama's Senate term, is made of different stuff. He was arrested last Tuesday, and the U.S. attorney filed a criminal complaint and made public tapes of Blagojevich seeking personal favors in return for the Senate seat.
Obama denied having conversations with Blagojevich about his choice, though his political strategist David Axelrod said last month that Obama had. Obama declined further comment when asked whether his staff members had discussed the matter with the governor, but he then promised to reveal the details later.
In the ordinary course of things, there would be nothing wrong with such conversations (did Foster Furcolo decide on Benjamin A. Smith II without prompting?). And the construction of the evidence most negative to Obama one can currently make is that someone in Team Obama suggested nominating Obama insider Valerie Jarrett, Blagojevich simply refused or asked for something improper in return and Team Obama promptly broke off communications. Any impropriety in this version was on Blagojevich's part, not on Obama's.