In May 2008 the late Dan Zanoza asked me to answer a few questions. Here is the exchange:
John Biver, In His Own Words
Biver answers questions on the state of Illinois politics and specifically addresses the Republican Party’s demise in recent years. Biver also delves into the roles of conservative activists and how individuals and groups can help conservatives turn the tide in state politics. Biver’s thoughts on GOP politics apply at a national level as well.
John Biver is an Illinois writer, researcher and activist. Biver has worked in politics and government both in Washington, D.C. and in Illinois. He is an elected Republican Precinct Committeeman in Kane County, and recently served as the president of a non-profit organization focusing on public school reform issues.
Q. In the past, you have been very critical of both political parties in Illinois. In particular, the GOP has taken much fire from you. Can you tell us why?
A. It’s easy to whine about Governor Blagojevich. But Democrats and liberals who offer nothing but higher funding for the failed status quo aren’t the real problem in Illinois.
We recently tallied up the number of years of combined service of our Republican General Assembly members. Over seven centuries! Yet despite all those years on the job by all those talented people, few Illinoisans know what would be different if Republicans were in charge.
Republicans in Illinois should have, by now, outlined an aggressive reform agenda, based on the many good examples being set by Republicans in other states. The fact is they haven’t and show no indication that they have any desire to do so.
The real work is building a statewide political movement that can change minds and produce votes. That building won’t take place with the current Republican leadership. If it was going to, we would’ve seen signs of progress by now. It’s helpful to remember that these people work for us – both as Republicans and as citizens of the state. We stand ready to cheer good efforts. Right now there isn’t much to cheer about.
Q. OK, that’s quite a summary of what is wrong with Illinois politics. What needs to be done to fix it?
A. We need new people engaging the process. The failed “conservative movement” and most of those elected Republicans appear impervious to the simple suggestion that different behavior is required if different results are to be seen. Delusion is common in political activist circles. They block out the unpleasant reality that all their efforts haven’t produced much and instead lash out at those who engage in straight talk.
If any of the current players on the political scene expect to be of any use, we would hope that they would, at a minimum, discontinue their enabling of the current failed leadership. A lot of individuals in Illinois conservative politics have chosen to trade in their principles for ongoing access to those who hold important party and government offices.
It would also be helpful if fewer “activists” were doing harm. It doesn’t bother us when the media or other advocates of the political left spread false information. Rational people can consider the source. One of the larger problems we have now in Illinois is that blogs that purport to be “conservative” post false information under fake names and revel in a type of anonymous postings that reminds me of what we’d hear from the sewer, if rats could talk. That’s probably being unkind to the rats.
Q. What should Illinois residents look for from their elected officials?
A. Leadership, information and courage to step aside if they’re unable to get the job done.
In a piece I wrote a couple of years ago, I referred to an old movie, “The Last Hurrah,” which was about an old Irish-American political boss whose era was coming to an end. We’ve recently passed through another transition, but most of our Republican leaders still don’t realize it. Many of them still think they’re elected clerks who can spend all their time on the details of legislation and the work of constituent service.
Over the course of the past few decades, the enormous growth of government has made it so that those who profit at taxpayers’ expense are the single largest special interest group in the nation. By their sheer size and dedication, they dominate the news and the information that reaches many busy Americans who work in non-government jobs.
Elected Republicans have yet to get serious about countering this behemoth. Any Illinois resident who is serious about supporting reform had better think about doing two things: 1) holding their elected official to a higher standard, especially regarding that official’s efforts to move public opinion in support of GOP principles, and 2) consider running for office themselves.
Our elected officials are the front line soldiers – and like it or not – we won’t gain ground if they are expecting to follow others into battle. They must lead.
Q. I don’t want to point fingers at any particular individual, but today our most talented people seem to be going into endeavors other than politics. Why?
A. Politics requires not only talent, but vision and will. Take the Chicago business community as an example. While those who make up its ranks inhabit all political points on the spectrum, how many of them realize that they have the power, money, and resources to bring real reform to their city and county government? The Chicago City Club’s nonpartisan forums and debates are typically packed to the gills with attendees with more than enough ability to do something about the waste and corruption that’s all around them. But it’s not a priority for them, and I’d guess a good number of them think of themselves as serfs, rather than as free men and women. They choose to put up with it, make money and pay the corruption tax.
If this state is ever to climb out of the hole it’s dug, it’ll be done with the help of dedicated men and women who have decided that “we the people” really means “we,” not just somebody else. Even Plato referred to the problem of being governed by your inferiors. It’s clearly not a new phenomenon.
Q. How do we encourage better people to get involved in the political process?
A. I’d argue that finding the answer to that question is the premier question of our times. Right now we’re governed primarily by the high school student-council types who enjoy the social game, or those with big egos who thrive off of the notoriety and attention. Clearly the average ability level of the political office holder must be increased rather quickly, if we’re going to avert governmental disaster both in foreign and domestic policy.
The good news is that the talent is out there. Our society still produces plenty of people with the ability to see politics and government for what they’re supposed to be–rather than some kind of arena for self-fulfillment and personal profit.
As long as this nation continues to produce men and women willing to serve like those in the armed forces, to cite one example, there’s hope for doing the same in the far less dangerous arena of politics.
The challenge is for those of us on the field to convey the importance of this fight to those preoccupied with living or who are struggling through life. It’s possible to find that “vitalizing spark” for the soul, as General George Patton called it, which is the secret to victory on the battlefield and in politics. Right now our side might lack the right kind of leaders, but it’s my view that they are out there and they will be found.
Q. The Illinois Republican Party seems to be in shambles at all levels. I don’t know where to start regarding this question, but perhaps you can tell RFFM.org’s readers how this came about.
A. It’s a long story – too long to touch on here. Where we’re at now has its genesis in the 1960s and 1970s with the wrong people with the wrong mentality gaining a foothold in Illinois GOP politics. But that’s not the worst part. Republicans who take the limited government/traditional values party platform seriously have had multiple opportunities to overthrow the “Ancient Régime.”
The reason they haven’t isn’t that much different from why the Chicago Cubs haven’t won a World Series in a hundred years: personnel. Although there have been good players on the field, they just haven’t gotten the job done.
In the past few years, not enough so-called “conservative” “activists” have understood how they were contributing to the continuation of the problem. I use quotation marks because I’m not sure a person is truly conservative if they’re exercising bad judgment and offering to assist knuckleheaded candidates who can pay top dollar. And I’m not sure they’re truly “active” if their participation doesn’t include real party and campaign work. You’ve heard of a RINO. Well, there’s such a thing as a Conservative Activist in Name Only.
Q. What needs to be done to fix the problem? Please be specific.
I’ve already addressed the simple fact that our elected leaders and activists must change their behavior if they expect a different result. When it comes to the party, obviously we need new people on the playing field there, too.
Specifically, I think just as the RNC and any effective state party organization outlines its issues, so also township and county organizations need to start telling voters how their party approaches township or county government. You asked for specifics and so do I. Too often, Republicans work to elect Republicans who govern like Democrats.
We’re not going to grow the party apparatus, if all the activity is really about the ambition of individual knuckleheads (if I may be blunt). Wonder why the Republican Party lacks energy and numbers? It’s because it’s not about anything important to real citizens. If these local party organizations don’t set a standard and get serious about reaching out to the people in their communities for involvement and support, don’t expect anything but more of the same.
The party organizations must also hold the locally elected officials responsible for their performance. Otherwise the party is a social club support group for the politically ambitious. For too many years we’ve been electing Republicans that wind up failing us and the parties just keep nominating the same goofs anyway. The purpose of the party isn’t to elect Republicans. It’s to elect Republicans that will truly advance GOP platform principles.
Q. In the past, some African-American churches have come under criticism from those who believe these houses of worship are participating in politics and violating the rules regarding tax-exempt organizations. However, you have said it would be wise to remove the tax-exempt status from all churches whether they participate in politics or not. Can you explain the rationale for your thinking?
A. Church folks may say they’re not interested in politics, but that’s like saying they’re not interested in there being enough of a supply of clean water or clean air. We live the consequences of politics every day – culturally and economically.
Christians are free to detach their spiritual life from the world if they want. They can continue to think that what takes place in church on Sunday is somehow not directly related to myriad foreign and domestic policies they support or oppose. But make no mistake, the left and their various pseudo-religions (the extreme environmentalists, the socialists, and the homosexual and gender confused communities) don’t separate their perverse “faith” from government. They attempt to drive policy actively and they raise and spend many million of dollars doing so.
All that takes place while Christians take the bribe. By being tax-exempt, the government allows them to keep all of the money they raise inside the church. When you compare that to the cost culturally and economically, I’d say it’s a bad deal. Those few extra bucks the church has to buy those extra nice pews won’t mean much when the country around them goes to hell – and I’m not talking about the hell that’s located in the hereafter.
My recommendation to Christians is to get real and stop being bought off. Build a more modest church and tell the pastor get a part-time job so they can rejoin the fight to defend Western Culture. If you think it’s not under siege, let me recommend a couple of books I recently read: Bruce Thornton’s “Decline and Fall,” and Mark Steyn’s “America Alone.”
Q. If our churches become a conduit for political energy, many will claim this violates their purpose. Can you understand the resistance that would be sure to come regarding your proposal?
A. There are a lot of manifestations of “political energy” in this country and I’d argue that most of them right now are working against genuine Christian values. Most uses of the term “politics” these days imply something unclean, which is not surprising because the results of most political energy leads to a negative end.
Each individual and every church will have to decide whether they want to continue to delegate to others the culture and the workings of their government. I’m not here to answer “what would Jesus do” specifically when it comes to this policy or that. But a better airing of the real world facts regarding the consequences of government policies and how they relate to the teachings of Christianity seem to be in order. Those who prefer to ignore the taint of cold hard governmental and cultural problems can form their own denomination and apply for that 501(c)3. Let others unilaterally disarm.
Christians are living in a dream world, if they think everybody else is playing by the same rules. The left wing proselytizing that goes on in the public schools isn’t going to be properly checked, to name just one example, if churches are hiding behind their tax-exempt status. If they think church is primarily about the hereafter, I’d suggest that this century might play out in a way their children and grandchildren might not appreciate.
At the end of the day, we’re talking about money. No one has convinced me that this tax exemption doesn’t work perfectly for those who want to undo the very values that are preached inside most Christian churches.
Q. There has been a huge increase in participation among Democratic primary voters this year. What do you think this says about November’s general election?
A. A lot can happen in the next five and a half months, but clearly Republicans and conservatives are facing the consequences of their failures. Speaker Hastert and President Bush had an historic opportunity that was by and large squandered. I like to say – it’s all about what the public knows and when they know it. If enough Americans can be introduced to the real Barack Obama, John McCain will become the next president. Republican members of the Congress and the Illinois General Assembly, however, probably don’t have enough time to learn what they need to learn before election day. As I said, going forward they have to approach their jobs differently, not merely brokering deals between bad and worse policies.
I’ve written a lot about this topic on our website. There is enormous Republican talent on Capitol Hill, it’s just not properly utilized. They can turn this thing around by 2010 if they start now. If they decide they’re going to leave it up to the media and a rag tag network of conservative interest groups to get their message out they should get comfortable in their minority status.