Saturday, May 27, 2006
The Conservative Train Wreck That Didnt Need to Happen.
Friday morning I was reviewing polls, nationally and statewide. A national poll showed that the American people are energized to the hilt about immigration, almost at the point of demanding something be done about it. And then I calculated: who first raised the issue of immigration reform in Illinoisand I remembered it was Jim Oberweis. He did it not on the spur of the moment to capitalize on an issue, but presciently several years ago when he was running for the U. S. Senate for which he was assailed by country-clubbers within his own party, the media and Democrats for being a racist. A racist when the entire country and certainly this state has now turned to the direction that he pointed to several years ago.
A second poll was from the 6th district, a supposedly strong Republican area, on the govenorship which shows Judy Baar Topinka running only two points or so ahead of Rod Blagojevich. Someone tried to slough that off to me by saying that this is the effect of Tammy Duckworth on the race. Of course thats ridiculous: the poll shows the lack of support from the Republican base for a liberal, prematurely orange-haired feminist who has made no bones about despising social conservatives and vowing to oppose the elements of conservative thought that characterize the GOP for what it is. She opposes the marriage amendment that would support marriage between a man and a woman. Imagine. Have we gone so far down the road that a Republican gubernatorial nominee is not only opposed to us on two cardinal points of the Republican platform but on the sanctity of marriage itself?
So after reviewing the two polls, I was driving my car and listening to talk radio. The talk radio station was playing a news excerpt from the forthcoming Channel 5 debate between the governor and Topinka. I mean to watch it when it airs at 9 a.m. Sunday, but as audio it was the most caterwauling, screeching you-did! I didnt! low-life, low-rent debate between adults I have heard in more than fifty years of either reporting politics or participating in it as a partisan. Topinka was saying that Blagojevich is the subject of a federal inquiry and this probe represents the low-point in Illinois governmental history. Blagojevich was responding by saying that 40 people in the George Ryan administration have been indicted and convicted without so much as a peep coming from Topinka as a Republican state constitutional officer.
It was so bad, so tacky, so low-rent that when the audio completed, the news director exclaimed (I paraphrase): Gee, isnt there some way we can make a choice that doesnt involve the baggage that these two are carrying? That certainly now has to be the view of a majority of Illinoisans. Then the idea hit me harder than ever before that it didnt have to happen. Social conservatives narrowly topped the vote that she won in the primaryand when you add the very tough economic conservatism of Ron Gidwitz (with zero based budgeting and other issues he expounded)there was no reason why Topinka became the winner except one.
She won for the simple reason that State Sen. Bill Brady, a tender 44 years old, a baby robins years by political age, a state senator and failed congressional candidatewith an entire lifetime of public service ahead of him, decided to rule or ruin against every remonstration by realists who told him he couldnt win because he didnt have sufficient money to advertise on television up here and that he ought to run for a lesser office as a bridge to the future.
Experience in lesser office was the gateway to almost all our governors. Thompson I do not consider a great governor or even much more than a mediocre one: but he earned his stripes as an assistant States attorney and then U. S. attorney. Edgar I do not consider a great governor but he was a state representative, governors office liaison and secretary of state before running for governor. Ogilvie, regarded as great only by liberals who were gratified he gave us the income tax, was Cook county sheriff and president of the county board. Stratton, a great governor despite an indictment from which he was acquitted, was state treasurer, congressman-at-large, a losing candidate for secretary of state, then elected state treasurer again and then governor. Dwight Green, an average governor, was a victorious Republican nominee for mayor of Chicago (having defeated Big Bill Thompson), losing to Ed Kelly in the general and then governor. The only person since James Wilson Fifer in 1888 to insist on running for governor directly from a state senatorship, and not even from the vantage-point of Senate leadership, was Brady. Only one person in Illinois history moved to governor from private citizen: Dan Walker.
Early in the game after Brady won the endorsement of the Conservative Summit (not with my vote, initially because I cast the lone vote for Birkett but after which I joined to make the vote unanimous rather than risk a split). Because I thought he might well be a more attractive a candidate than Oberweis, I sought early in the pre-primary period to get Brady funding took him to meet a very influential finance leader and found that there was not the slightest possibility of interest from major finance sources. Later I told him and his people that. I waited as the pre-primary campaign continued; then satisfying myself that Brady couldnt win and that his candidacy was endangering conservative prospects, I endorsed Jim Oberweis proudly. Oberweis campaign was starting to resonate as the anti-immigration movement swung into gear. Oberweis continued to show the tough guts on immigration and other issues while on many Brady supplied vague generalities.
In desperation as the primary ran on, I urged my conservative friends to support Oberweis because on all conservative issues and economic issues he was a ten-strike. It took no feat of genius to understand that unless Brady withdrew, there was to be a train-wreck. Unaccountably, some of my conservative friends argued Oberweis should withdraw despite his leading Brady in the polls! For one reason or another, people in the engineers cab on the Brady train put blinders on and refused to reconsider. It was a matter of pride with them and ego. But the greatest ego tripper of them all was this young man who not daunted by his failure to raise sufficient money, determined like a spoiled little kid that he would accept no substitute, insisting he would run for nothing else but governor no matter the potential train wreck that loomed ahead.
Even so, if he had stayed in the race and had crafted a campaign that pointed out the difference between himself and Topinka, he might have ensured her defeat. Not so. Instead, unaccountably, he resolved to do devastating damage to Oberweis and in debate after debate he made it clear that Oberweis was the enemy. He ridiculed Oberweis prior commercials in debates; on most issues, he gave Topinka a pass. Why? Maybe it was because Jim Edgar people had flattered him, telling him he was reminiscent of Edgar as a young man (I have heard that explanation more than once). His key strategist had been a deputy Edgar press secretary: was that a factor? No matter. On election night, before the results were in, Brady telephoned Topinka and counseled her to claim victory very soon, with the result that she claimed victory very early, before many analysts believed she had it in the bag. Bradys impatience to get Topinka accepted as nominee was something to behold.
Other people played minor roles in the train wreck. There were people committed to the social conservative cause who refused to endorse Oberweis despite that Oberweis was always leading Brady, watching the train wreck that was pre-ordained occur. Whether their own ego got in the way is for them to determine, but they who pride themselves on astuteness and sagacity sat still until the train wreck.
Because of selfishness, ego and high self-regard as eminences gris have precipitated the train wreck, here is the condition we conservatives find ourselves: At a time when immigration reform is burning up the country with the possibilities of voters using that as a yardstickalthough Illinois has had a candidate who raised it early and prescientlywe have bargained away the issue by defeating by a narrow margin a man who could have capitalized on it for Republicans and would have mobilized movement politics here that could elect many others including some congressional candidates who could benefit from that power today bargained it away as we watched the 44-year-old who would not withdraw bargained it away by not taking steps to see that, if Brady wouldnt withdraw, endorsements could be made for Oberweis bargained it away by not complaining when Brady kept Oberweis in his gun-sights during the primary.
We could have had a social conservative Republican nominee running right on the issues topping it off with immigration reform when through petty, suicidal madness, social conservatives sat there and watched it happen. I dont blame anyone who voted for Ron Gidwitz who was an honorable candidate and a social liberaland they properly decided he more nearly reflected their views. But I do blame lots of my fellow social conservatives who would rather have Topinka than one who agreed with them because of the most petty of reasons. I know more than one person who received a last-minute call from Oberweis asking for an endorsement at a time when Bradys loss to him was foreshadowed. Oberweis pleaded, saying his endorsement would mean a very great deal. He was turned down. The arrogance of that denial almost but not quite matches the arrogance of Brady who was emboldened by his claque (atta-boy, Bill. Stick with it!) and would not back down.
This election will not only be a defeat for the Republicans: it is a bitter one because of conservative Brady suicide troops who could recognize at the end that we must coalesce and who turned thumbs down. Private counseling to Bradyif it occurred at allthat he should run for State Treasurer is not enough when such counseling was just thatprivate. Refusal of Brady to withdraw was one thing: his rising up and beating Jim Oberweis over the head and shoulders is quite another. For that and with good reason he was rewarded with the Topinka lip-smack in return for the Judas kiss that sealed the triumph of the election.
I have said before that the governorship is an election conservatives cannot win, the choice being either short-term or long-term. Reelection of Blagojevich, bad in the short-range, would at least spur a takeover of the Republican party by forces who want to rebuild. Election of Topinka would be worse because it would hand the official reins of the GOP to enemies as bitter against conservatives as if the incumbent were George Ryan with little likelihood that the combine would be dislodged in 2010.
Our current circumstance was caused by arrogance and refusal to recognize a need to compromise on personalities even when issues are agreed upon. To me, the failure of imagination, the stony-hearted refusal to endorse Oberweis or at the least to make a public warning about the imminence of disaster in the events leading up to the March primary were stunning. Now after the debacle, Brady, with no further experience, still holding no higher office than state senator, no statewide experience beyond precipitating the train wreck will likely be asking for help to further advance his career.
I have to look askance at the people who rode in the engineers cab, cheering Brady on, as the train roared down the track. The only way this dreadful experience can be made profitable in the future is for those who either rode in the cab or did nothing to acknowledge their short-sightedness.
But asking them to admit error on this one is akin to forcing them to acknowledge human fallibility: its not going to happen.