Friday, April 28, 2006

“The Bum Won”: Split Personality Illinois Politics Has Lots of Dems for Topinka, Republicans for Blagojevich

The famous and rollicking musical “Fiorello” on the career of Fiorello LaGuardia features a rousing song: “The Bum Won.” The show’s theme is this: LaGuardia, a Bull Moose progressive Republican Congressman somehow allowed himself to be convinced to run for Mayor of New York in a town with a straight Democratic string of victories. The hacks who put him up to it were sell-outs to the Democrats and wanted to run a bum who would lose easily to the Dem candidate. Amid a lot of improbable ups and downs—including corruption in City Hall—somehow LaGuardia pulled it out. Sadness envelopes the Republican hacks as they realize their patsy has defied the odds. The song “The Bum Won” shows their remorse. Where reality differs from the show is that LaGuardia became a real star; legions of Democratic and Republican followers don’t believe for a minute they have stars, even though the press releases are flowing with candidates mouthing rhetoric which the followers don’t faintly believe.

In some ways, “Fiorello” is a model for both parties in Illinois. The “Combine” doesn’t care who wins—just wants the contracts and gravy train to continue. The GOP nominates Judy Baar Topinka as a minority candidate (whom a combination of Oberweis and Brady narrowly topped). She is a handmaiden to the Dems, sharing their love of pork and disdain for conservative social values. Thus: a great number of movement Republican conservatives dread the prospect of a Topinka victory, peopled as it will be with legions of old Thompson-Edgar-Ryan hacks. The dread of movement conservatives is that for four more years they will be shut out of the party process…and maybe for more years than that. So increasingly they are hoping—just hoping—Blagojevich wins so that their party will be freed of the hateful Combine people once and for all. It is very similar to the dread of Republicans in 1932 when their candidate was Herbert Hoover: they don’t believe in the candidate and would like him to fly to the moon.

Imagine the sour mood of movement conservatives with a GOP candidate who is even loathe to endorse the marriage amendment which would spur grassroots politics on the right. Wouldn’t it be good to ditch the old “Combine” faction of the GOP, let it go down and allow the party to build up a new breed? The series of Rasmussen polls showing her winning slightly over Blagojevich spurs a deep pessimism, akin to the one in the musical, except rather than “The Bum Won” is “Can the Bum Win?” They feared greatly that James Meeks would siphon off so many black votes that Topinka could truly become “the bum who won.” Now they’re happy that Meeks evidently has been bought off. Normally they’d blast the dance Blagojevich and Meeks do as opportunism, extortionate politics. They shut up hoping that Meeks won’t run. Nobody blasts Meeks because the Blagojevich people don’t want to rile him and the Topinka people don’t want to insinuate that he’s a hustler, in hopes that he’ll run.

Look at the Democrats who are jaundiced with Blagojevich. Paradoxically, a good number of socially liberal Democrats, angered at Gov. Rod Blagojevich, believe that electing Topinka would be in their interest, in that Topinka would actively cooperate with them—and in more demonstrative ways than Blagojevich has heretofore—and not run for reelection after she finishes her term at age 66. That would allow time for the Democratic party to muster strength to bring about what they call the Restoration, the election of Lisa Madigan. The thought of Blagojevich will all his money winning by turning out a stunning number of commercials is heavily depressing. “Can the Bum Win?”

Both parties are heading for nervous breakdowns. Liberal Dems with no connection to Speaker Madigan fear the power of regular party mobilization will, in fact, cut it for Blagojevich. Conservative Republicans worry that somehow the accordion lady with a disdain for them, who is so liberal she fears to endorse heterosexual marriage could win.

Some conservative Republicans who are party regulars, argue for Topinka by saying if you can’t get a meal, settle for a sandwich: Topinka can be seen to be acceptable on some things. Real conservative Republicans say they don’t want a sandwich, having had to be satisfied on leavings from the tables of Thompson-Edgar-Ryan. The best that can happen for Illinois is that both lose. But for serious Republicans who want to build their party on principle, it’s far better to see Blagojevich continue…and for serious Democratic liberals who want to start with a fresh face and captivating new ideas, it’s far better to see Topinka step in for one term.. Interesting, huh? Your comments?


  1. Tom,
    In this post you repeat a theme that has been in several other of your posts on the governors election. You, and others, seem to think that if Topinka loses the election then it will free up the party organization for "movement conservatives". We lost in 2002 to Blagojevich. How come the movement conservatives did not take over the party then? The answer is that people, whatever their political ideology, who are in party posts now are not going to go away just because someone loses the governor election. They didn't go away in 2002 and they won't go away in 2006. For the most part they get elected to these party posts. If movement conservatives want to change the party they will have to start getting elected to party positions --not sit around and wait for someone, Topinka or anyone else, to lose.

  2. Blagojevich will be better for conservatives because Blagojevich, sadly, is more conservative than Topinka. Topinka would govern to the Left of where Blagojevich has been.