It’s not a simple thing to get elected to Congress. It takes a certain type of personality and toughness. Of course it also takes a lot of money, talent, timing, and the help of many people. So those who do become members of the U.S. House of Representatives have certainly accomplished something noteworthy by winning and holding onto their office. Unfortunately, our Illinois Republican U.S. Reps have been a terrible disappointment on two very important fronts.
Number one is that they’ve completely abandoned the Republican Party back home when it comes to fundraising and bench-building and branding. The one exception to this has been Dennis Hastert. In fact it would’ve have been better if Denny and his staff had ignored the Illinois Republican Party. Hastert’s people (whose names show up on his, the state party’s, and other campaign payrolls), have had a negative impact.
From throwing out a decent state party chairman (who at least had potential because he was clean) – to attempts to prevent the appointment of (and later to get rid of) the best U.S. Prosecutor Illinois’ Northern District has ever seen (Patrick Fitzgerald) – to the candidacy of Judy Baar Topinka – Team Hastert has been a disaster.
Number two is that they’ve failed to make effective use of their bully pulpit. Each member of Congress can command media attention and can reach out within their district’s communities in ways available to few others.
Our Congressional guys (and gal) haven’t done a darn thing to do that on the big issues of the day. None of the Illinois Republican delegation seems to have any sense of their responsibility to move public opinion back in their home state.
While President George W. Bush and his administration have been waging a new and difficult kind of war both in Iraq and against terrorism world wide, it was the perfect time for Republican members of Congress to step up and lead on domestic issues.
Again, it’s important to note a simple fact: Republicans held the U.S. House during the years 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006 – all years when there was a Republican in the White House who would’ve certainly signed key reform legislation.
During those years we saw no progress – none – zero – on any desperately-needed domestic policy entitlement reform – especially Social Security and Medicaid. We saw no progress – none – zero- on reform of the tax code or on the controlling of federal spending.
Instead, Social Security, Medicaid, the tax code, and federal spending all got worse!
Not surprisingly, no serious attempts by our Illinois Republican delegation were made to make sure that the folks back home knew what changes were needed and how they could benefit from them.
The worst part of this is that during the six years since 9-11-01, during the time when the invasion of Iraq was being debated, and especially since it took place, our Illinois members of the U.S. House have been AWOL when it comes to helping our President make the case about Iraq to the people back in their districts.
No United States President can do it all. That’s why it’s good to have members of Congress from your own party providing an assist. I would argue that President Bush received no such assist from any Republican member from Illinois.
There is no other way to say it except that these eight men and one woman have failed their constituents, their state, and their nation in a time of war.
Which brings me back to the subject of J. Dennis Hastert. Lately I’ve been hearing about how popular former Speaker Dennis Hastert is within his district. First, there’s no doubt many find Denny a likable guy and are thrilled to know or have met a U.S. House Speaker. But it’s a tired fact and now even a cliché that everyone likes their own Congressman, they just don’t like Congress. So, to use another cliché, that “popularity” is often a mile wide and an inch deep.
Second, poll numbers apply differently for individual members of Congress. The approval ratings of Congress as a whole are now and were last year when Hastert was Speaker among the lowest ever seen. The fact that President Bush is a one-man branch of government is the reason he faces the music directly when it comes to poor polling numbers. Members of Congress all get to hide behind the institution.
In the ninth month of 2007 it’s still amazing to think that Illinois was actually the home of the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives for eight years. Eight! You would think that we would’ve seen more of a benefit than making Chicago’s Mayor Daley happy (because he got a lot of federal dollars), or that there is the prospect of a new highway bypass connecting Interstate 90 and Interstate 80 west of the Chicago suburbs.
Politically for Illinois Republicans, Hastert’s tenure will go down in history as one of the biggest missed opportunities ever. While Hastert may have done a few good things in D.C., he has done nothing right in Illinois. His people have been at the heart of almost every bad decision made in Republican circles since 1998.
The way to correct this sad history is to vow not to repeat it. Take note: the folks who brought you the Mark Foley scandal are now assisting Jim Oberweis’ campaign to succeed Hastert.
In the coming days and weeks we’ll have more to say on the proper role of our Congressional delegation. Since no one else is holding them to a high standard, we will.
The people of Illinois deserve better. And they won’t get it unless they demand it.
Up next: The wasted Congressional bully pulpit.