Monday, March 31, 2014

Why debate details when big issues divide?

     Were I to ask you what color seat you would like on your bus trip to Cleveland, you would probably reply, “But I’m not going to Cleveland.” 
     Were I to insist, fanning a few fabric swatches before you — maroon, a powdery blue, hunter green — you would answer, “It doesn’t MATTER what color, because I don’t want to take a bus to Cleveland!”
     Sadly, this simple logic escapes us when it comes to matters political. We fall to debating specifics — the color of the seat — ignoring a key overarching fact: Some of us want to take the trip; others don’t. 
     The original intention of this column was to look at the state of Illinois with a cool, dispassionate eye and ask: Is Bruce Rauner right? Are we really much worse off under Gov. Pat Quinn? Rauner points to our 8.7 percent unemployment, second highest in the nation. The Quinn people, however, observe that when he took office, it was 11.4 percent. Rauner focuses on the bloat of government, Quinn on how much has been cut.
     Who’s right? The bottom line is, for purposes of conversation, that it doesn’t matter. These stats are specifics: the color of the seat. And no number or group of numbers is going to make Rauner supporters shift to Quinn, or Quinn supporters decide that a rich guy with no experience in government is qualified to run the state. I won’t say which side I’m on, but you can guess. 
     What decides our default, which bin, Republican or Democrat, we live in? I could be a cynic and say it’s your parents’ political party. Most follow the leanings of their parents and never question it.    Having been born blinking into one particular camp, we just shrug and spend our lives there, plucking reasons to justify it as they float by. 
     But pretend, for a moment, that we could actually make the choice. What puts us in one party or another is not pegged to the unemployment levels in Illinois or what the tax rate is, but how you answer the following simple, Cleveland-or-no, five-word question: Is government good or bad?
     Not just Illinois government. All government. If you think government is a good thing, in the main, then you’re a Democrat. You want preschoolers to get that cup of free morning gruel, want rehab clinics for drug addicts. A disaster strikes — and Illinois has been hit with 11 natural disasters since   Quinn took office — and you want the government to show up with backhoes and fresh water. If companies are selling tainted meat, then you want the USDA to be on them like a cloud of hornets.
    If you don’t like government, you’re a Republican. You want to cut taxes and slice deficits until there isn’t any money to fund all those programs that only help people you wish didn’t exist anyway. If companies are selling tainted meat, well, then people should be savvy enough not to buy it. 
     The situation is more complicated. Some government programs bug Democrats: farm subsidies for instance. And Republicans embrace Medicare, out of self-preservation, and blow kisses at the military, as if it weren’t as purely a government function as the National Endowment for the Arts.
     Me, I’m Democratic by breeding — my parents are Democrats; my father, in fact, worked for the government, NASA, for most of his career. And by choice. I make that decision by what I call the Baby Conundrum. If you find a baby on your doorstep, you either a) raise it yourself b) take it to the nearest church or c) call the cops. 
     To me, a) is strange and nobody would do it; b) is theoretical and while Republicans pay lip service, they never call their church to report a fire. The rational person answers is c). You want a government that cares for abandoned babies (fetuses aren’t babies, your Pavlovian bell isn’t ringing) and schools them and treats them when they’re sick. I’ve never heard an argument that explains why that logic falls apart as they get older. To me, the Republican stance against the Affordable Care Act is a shameful nadir of cold-hearted wrongheadedness that someday will be seen as being in keeping with their stance on race and women, and the entire litany of wrongheaded, selfish notions they’ve clung to until the second they’re pried out of their soft little hands. 
     Getting back to Illinois. I would be for Quinn because he fixed the pension mess that grew under his forebears of both parties, and he signed marriage equality into law even though his faith dictated otherwise. That’s another dividing line: Is religion a private matter? Or a whip to make your neighbors/employees do what they don’t want to? Dems to the left, GOP to the right. Oh, and consider a trip to Cleveland. Friendly folk, remodeled art museum. It’s very nice. 


  1. Quinn did not fix the pension mess. The legislature did it without him. He just signed on the dotted line. The mess will not be fixed until the courts decide if the fix was constitutional. As to Democratic or Republican, only sheep and low information dullards vote on party lines. Intelligent voters vote for individuals. The to parties have done more harm than good over the past 20 years.

  2. I'm in neither bon. I like government a lot, just not this government.

  3. Mr. Bella, you're absolutely correct. All Quinn did was introduce Squeezy the Freaking Pension Python. What a joke. What a perfect symbol of his ability to govern.

  4. More thoughts on Cleveland.

    A place you bypass on the expressway and go through at night on the AMTRAK train to NYC.

    The home of Severance Hall and the wonderful Cleveland Symohony.

    Detroit is 'Cleveland without the glitter.' (presumably sarcastic.)

    Witty rejoinder by Franklin Delano Roosevelt to a political opponent's charge that he had lied in a speech in Cleveland: "I've never been to Cleveland."

  5. Well we sure know now how that Rauner turned out.

  6. Have you ever stopped in Cleveland, Mister Evans, instead of bypassing it on the highway? (It's an expressway in Chicago, and a highway in Cleveland) It's not your fault that Amtrak has such crazy scheduling, but it's set up so that you can leave Chicago when it's light and arrive in New York when it's light. You might even like Cleveland. Severance Hall is a gem that rivals anything you'll find in Europe, and the music will blow you away (It's the Cleveland Orchestra, and the Chicago Symphony). Oh, yeah, and there's also that strangely-shaped lakefront joint that honors rock and roll.

    1. Since I doubt Tom is going to reply to this response to his 4-year-old comment, I'll take it upon myself.

      Many of us here like to think that the CSO is the best symphony in the nation, but the Cleveland Orchestra gives it a run for its money, at least. I've never been inside, but from my understanding, Severance Hall is definitely the superior place to listen to a concert, when compared to Orchestra Hall.

      I've spent a fair amount of time in Cleveland, have relatives there, and appreciate the many good things about it. But, what's the fun in that? So, I'll post these old videos, which I sent to Neil after stumbling upon them almost a decade ago. Mean, but funny -- have you seen them before, Grizz?

  7. Those nasty snarks that said "We're not Detroit!" were almost unavoidable here for quite a while. They made me laugh while pissing me off at the same time. Even after 25 years here, I have occasional pangs of regret about leaving Chicago, and still have mixed feelings for my adopted city, especially in winter. But this was my second wife's lifelong hometown, and had she moved instead of me, we'd have found Chicago to be mostly unaffordable and would now be out in the northern or western boonies. After half a lifetime on the North Side, that would be like moving to hell. I'm much better off with the choice I made.

    I can count on both hands the number of times I visited Orchestra Hall, but I have been to Severance many times in the last quarter-century. As a performance space, it leaves Chicago's venue in the dust, both aesthetically and acoustically, especially since the major renovations almost twenty years ago. The place is a shining jewel, and glows even when the stage is dark. I hope you get to see it.


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