Cross, Tenhouse, and the Importance of Ideas

“To get good government means to get consent to good governors, and this is the political problem.” So said political science scholar Walter Berns in 1965.

Media reports say today is the day for the big Cross/Tenhouse vote to see who will become the new minority leader in the Illinois House of Representatives. If Tom Cross prevails over Art Tenhouse as expected, it will then be his turn to prove himself. Just like his “friend” Rod Blagojevich, Representative Cross will have to deliver.

I know and respect people on both sides of the debate, and I’ll enjoy watching just how well the Republicans in the State House do under the leadership of Mr. Cross. I think it’s a safe bet that he’ll do better that his predecessor and long time political joke, Lee Daniels. Cross certainly doesn’t have to do much to do better than Mr. Daniels.

Commentator George Will wrote the following almost twenty years ago:

Statesmen who are unaware of the ideas that shaped the institutions currently in their custody, and uninterested in the ideas that shape the expectations and tolerances of the citizenry, are statesmen governed by forces they cannot comprehend.

For many of those Illinois House members voting for a new leader, the very notion of “ideas” is a foreign concept. All is personality and “leadership” style. Like the electorate, Illinois House members want to feel good about themselves. We shouldn’t forget the fact that most of them have spent many years subjected to leadership that was less enlightened than that of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (who at least knew when to get out of the way).

Ideas have consequences. That’s not something new to politics or to the world. The ideas that Mr. Cross and Mr. Tenhouse claim to represent matter.

If Mr. Cross ascends the throne, he’ll face his first test during the upcoming session. If the goal is making House members feel better about themselves by allowing them a voice in the caucus process, my guess is he’ll succeed. If the goal is to offer the public an alternate vision to the majority party’s vision, I won’t place a bet.

The truth is, Illinois House Republicans are a stunted group. Having allowed themselves to be subjected to two decades of brain-dead leadership, it’ll take some time before they are really able to think for themselves and exercise good judgment.

This is not to say that I think Tom Cross can’t be an excellent leader. If his “leadership style” allows for the airing and intramural debate of a real reform agenda, and the case is made by those who understand there is no such thing as a “moderate” reform agenda, we might still see life in the Illinois House.

The study of political philosophy tells us that it is the Master Science. Without a sober assessment of human nature and an extensive study of how we should govern ourselves, all other human achievement is impossible.

If you don’t think ideas matter, study the third world, second world, and most of the rest of the first world and take a look at their cultural and scientific and economic progress and the level of opportunity for happiness available to their inhabitants. It’s no wonder millions of them seek to gain entry into the United States. It’s not a matter of race; it’s a matter of ideas.

The ideas and comprehension of both Tom Cross and his friend Rod Blagojevich are about to be tested. All will see whether they turn out to be “good governors.” I wish them both good luck.