Commentary Magazine


On Winston Churchill and Former Gov. Blagojevich

On Fox News Sunday, a slightly incredulous Chris Wallace asked former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich if he were serious when he compared himself to Winston Churchill in his ability to come back from political oblivion. Blagojevich replied: “You’re right, I’m not serious. I don’t smoke cigars or scotch, and I think I can run faster than him.” As Sir Winston died in 1965, it would be most surprising if the Governor were not fleeter of foot.

But Churchill would have smiled at Blagojevich’s observations on smoking, drinking, and running. The Governor’s first claim reminded me of one of Churchill’s interchanges with General Bernard Montgomery. The slightly priggish general is alleged to have said that he neither drank nor smoked and was 100 percent fit. Churchill immediately shot back that he both drank and smoked and was 200 percent fit.

And as for physical fitness, Churchill’s views on that subject, and its connection with leadership ability, are curiously relevant to Blagojevich’s desire to mount a comeback. In February 1941, Churchill – as recorded in the third volume of his World War II memoirs – wrote to his Secretary of State for War as follows:

Please see the Times of February 4. It is really true that a seven-mile cross-country run is enforced upon all in this division, from generals to privates? … A colonel or a general ought not to exhaust himself in trying to compete with young boys running across country seven miles at a time. The duty of officers is no doubt to keep themselves fit, but still more to think for their men, and to take decisions affecting their safety or comfort. Who is the general of this division, and does he run the seven miles himself? If so, he may be more useful for football than war. Could Napoleon have run seven miles across country at Austerlitz? Perhaps it was the other fellow he made run. In my experience, based on many years’ observation, officers with high athletic qualifications are not usually successful in the higher ranks.

It would seem that Churchill’s maxim also applies to governors.