This would have been posted here Wednesday, the same day it appeared in the newspaper, but it got bumped by yesterday's Junior-goes-to-college follow-up.
Scores of readers were relieved that the paper hadn't really swooned into the arms of Republican gubernatorial wannabe Bruce Rauner. So I thought it should be shared with you in the blogosphere, and if you already read it in the paper Wednesday, there's the above link as a substitute, and if you read them both, well, I think that's about enough for now.
We were all having a good laugh Wednesday, and then Sun-Times Springfield bureau chief Dave McKinney's resignation burst midday and made the subject a lot more somber. If you haven't heard of the story—it's everywhere—Dave said Rauner was exerting undue pressure on his bosses, so he quit.
The news was nauseating when it first hit, but now it's settled down a bit. I don't know all the intricacies of what occurred, just what I've gleaned from the buzz going around. So my take is both half-informed and skewed from someone who has worked at the Sun-Times for 27 years and did not quit on the countless occasions when I ran into aspects of the business that made me wince.
A previous owner, David Radler used to push for all sorts of squishy stories to benefit his pal, Rod Blagojevich; the trick was to accept the assignment, and then quietly bury it into a Dumpster and forget about it, so ethics weren't compromised. It worked; Radler's long gone and Rod's long gone—both men wound up in prison—but I'm still here.
To me, the still-being-at-the-paper part is important. Rauner getting Dave fired and Dave quitting are functionally the same thing—he's gone either way—and while I admire Dave as much as anybody, I can't fight the creeping feeling he played into the hands of the Evil We All Oppose.
A few things to keep in mind: A) the newspaper that many are castigating for supposedly caving to Rauner is the same newspaper that just last week was happily publishing McKinney's sharp pieces shredding Rauner; B) the endorsement of Rauner, though regrettable, is a different beast entirely than the supposed pressure he put on reporters. Every owner in the history of newspapering ballyhoos candidates he likes, a little or a lot, though no one is arguing that this was smoothly done; C) Rauner's accusations that McKinney's wife, a Democratic operative, was somehow driving the stories, while ridiculous—a story either is solid or it's not; it hardly matters who suggested it, not that I have any reason to doubt Dave's version of events—had a veneer of seriousness that justified investigation, and being nudged off your beat for a week is not, in itself, a big deal. I was suspended for a week last year for what struck me as a truly tenuous reason. But I didn't tell anybody and few noticed (sigh) making it a whole lot easier to come back and start doing my job again, which is the route I wish Dave had chosen to take since while it is courageous to make a stand for journalistic integrity, you can only self-immolate once, there's a dramatic flash and then ashes but what have you accomplished?
The bottom line is, D) I sincerely believe that had McKinney managed to just step around this mess and gone back to doing his job, an important life skill in journalism, instead of pouring gasoline over himself, and the paper, and striking a match, the whole thing would be over by now and he'd be back to kicking Rauner's ass, which is what this is supposedly all about; E) I wish this were "The Front Page" era so everybody involved could just go out and get drunk together, shake their heads at their collective stupidity, and go back to work the next day. But F) it's not. The only upside I see in the real world is that G) Bruce Rauner revealed himself even more starkly as the ruthless, vindictive creature that he most certainly is, eager to try to squelch a story by leaning hard on the little folk reporting it. I can't imagine anybody wanting that as governor. So maybe it'll do some ultimate good, though the sting will linger on this one, and now we have to find somebody who thinks it's a good career move to spend time in Springfield.
A number of readers apparently feel I run the newspaper, or at least am an important and valued member of the top editorial team, plugged into all decisions as they are being made, sitting in the Inner Sanctum, wherever that may be, peering out beneath hooded robes, pressing our fingertips together to make cathedrals, exchanging opinions in hushed tones.
“Brother Neil, perhaps you will share your thoughts on the viability of a six-county circulator monorail scheduled to be built in the year 2031 ...?”
Let me disabuse you of that notion.
Rather, I’m the same union wage slave I’ve always been, who became aware of the paper’s endorsing Bruce Rauner for governor on Sunday morning, flipping through the paper.
“Shucks,” I said, or a word to that effect.
Now a paper’s recommendation can be very helpful, and I’m sincerely glad that the Sun-Times has returned to the endorsement biz. There are a lot of races to keep track of, and the harried voter can’t be expected to know which is the most worthy would-be comptroller and which judges are capable.
When it comes to a high office such as governor, however, I assume most readers don’t need a newspaper to tell them what their guts tell them. I assume you either are already a supporter — and I’ll try to be impartial here — of good old Gov. Pat Quinn, the homespun Democrat whom everybody knows and loves, working like a plough horse trying to correct the problems left behind by the jail-bound Rod Blagojevich, and, before him, the jail-bound George Ryan.
Or you back Bruce Rauner, the Republican multimillionaire who popped steaming from the C. Montgomery Burns mold, bursting onto the scene like a party guest flinging his cape at a cringing footman, demanding the governorship be given him right now, as his birthright, a kind of droit de seigneur.Darn, I've blown this whole balance bit, haven't I? No big mystery as to why. I've had many encounters with Quinn over the years, conversations and coffees and discussions about important issues facing Illinois. He struck me as decent, hard-working, moral — he signed the gay marriage law that Rauner said he would veto, despite Quinn being Catholic and enduring threats of excommunication from a church now scrambling to catch up with him. Two years ago I invited Quinn to a party; he came, and said some kind words.
I couldn't invite Rauner two years ago because he wasn't in the public eye. A late life conversion to the joy of public service, apparently. I've met the guy a few times, tried to initiate conversation, but it was as if the valet had tried to chat up a Rolls-Royce owner while being tossed the keys. Rauner looked at me as if I were a bug.
Running a government is hard work; it's complicated and boring. The main selling point of Rauner's campaign—I've never done this before so vote for me—is reason enough not to, in my view, without considering his rebarbative personality. Tycoons who grab at public office as the cherry atop their career success have a tendency to snag the brass ring, look at it for a puzzled moment, thinking, "Oh, this was what I wanted?" and then let it drop into the dirt and wander off.
Remember Peter Fitzgerald? Our one-term senator? How about Jim Oberweis, who was elected to the state Senate—fifth time's the charm!—and immediately realized what an empty honor it is, and now is engaged in a truly futile run at Sen. Dick Durbin, though I have to give him credit for those dark commercials that try to cast mud on our Boy Scout senator, who learned ethics as an egg tucked under the wing of that platinum bar of probity, Paul Simon.
At first, with Rauner, I thought, "He can't win. Illinoisans are too savvy to coronate this sneering plutocrat."
My wife thinks I'm being wistful, that the state is in such bad shape—The Economist gave Illinois an "F" for small business environment—that Rauner's "Try somebody, anybody else" mantra will work, even though that somebody is Rauner. Maybe there's sense there. As Irish poet Brendan Behan said, "A change is as good as a rest."
It boils down to this: You can pick at Quinn's public record because he has a public record. Rauner has a bunch of hedge fund businesses, and from what my colleagues have dug up in the parts of the paper that aren't endorsing him, it isn't pretty.
If you hate government and think experience there only poisons you for the necessary task of dismantling it, vote for Rauner.
If you consider, as I do, government to be an essential expression of our values as American citizens, vote for Quinn.