The Illinois GOP’s State of Confusion

An old friend (who shall remain nameless but is notable for the office he holds) sent me an email yesterday and thought he had me stumped with this question:

Do you think state Rep. Terry Parke lost because he was insufficiently conservative and didn’t support the GOP platform? If so, on what issues could he have been more conservative?

Clearly he was trying to make the point — “see, a conservative lost, so we need to move left.” A lot has to be said in answer to that because the question itself suggests the need to cover some very basic things about how democracy works and the role of political leadership.

The Basics — Then and Now

The basic task faced by our political leadership today is no different than that which faced the founding era generation in the late Eighteenth Century. They had to figure out the right course of action (what works best), and then make the case. Back then it was whether to break from Great Britain. Now it’s things like deciding whether the taxeaters still need more of our tax dollars.

Once the founders decided the best course of action — they moved to win public support for it. Think about the job of arguing for a break from the strongest and best nation in the world and setting up something new and untried — a democracy. Historians tell us that in the early 1770s at best a third of the nation was for independence, a third against, and a third ambivalent. That sure sounds familiar.

After declaring independence they had to fight a long war — which often looked like it was going to be lost. Once the war was won, they had to draft a constitution and were presented with yet another sales challenge. Fortunately, those leaders weren’t afraid of intellectual labor and engaged in the battle to win over public opinion through things like the Federalist Papers.

Today, we’ve got all the evidence we need that truly limited government works best. Yet here in Illinois, Republican Party leaders have abandoned the debate.

The Art of the Sale

The politicians who support big government, big public debt, big spending and ever-higher taxes and fees have been selling their solutions. Those politicians who run as Republicans and who claim to support the opposite have failed miserably to do much of anything.

Many Republican politicians despair of ever winning public support for the policies that work. They decide they’d rather hold office than advance reforms — so they forfeit their principles and provide no real leadership. They parrot what the Democrats offer and pretend there is no other choice. A lot of the Republicans who get elected today are indistinguishable from the Democrats.

Democrat politicians understand that the debate that needs to take place must take place year-round and through all available venues. Republican politicians delude themselves into thinking the argument over which policy is best need only be made through last minute political campaign mailers or TV ads.

This is especially true at the national level where Republicans think they can rely on superior fundraising and campaign expenditures when the fact is the public has been indoctrinated against them during the previous twenty months.

Terry Parke lost because the voters in that area saw no reason for him to win. This begs a larger question: what is the purpose of any Republican legislator in Illinois these days? I know of no agenda — no solutions — no plans — no counter proposal to the Dems. Do you? (I’m sure they have some ideas — the problem is that few people have heard them.)

I also know of no elected Republican in Illinois who seems to understand that individual races have to be a part of a larger effort. No one gets their news based on legislative district lines, and it’s laughable to think that Illinois voters get their information from political mailings.

The sooner the elected Republican members of the General Assembly admit they have no idea what to do — the sooner they can hire the right policy people and communications professionals (not political hacks) who can help show them the way.

The choice facing the Illinois Republican Party is a simple one: either join the Democrats and give up the fight for the policies that work best — truly limited government and traditional values — or — get back into the fight to move public opinion in the right direction.

There has been no effort to do this for well over a decade. Fact is, this doesn’t even have to be discussed in terms of left v. right — it can be described in terms of ideas v. no ideas.

How We Got Here

It never ceases to amaze me that Illinois Republican legislators (and for that matter, IL GOP Party Chairmen) can’t see why this state is voting more Democratic. Illinois Republican legislators are the very people with the power to win back support by offering a counter agenda — yet they don’t. And then they make the brilliant observation that the state is becoming more Democratic!

They’re unable to connect the dots. When we haven’t seen any serious Republican agenda in this state in well over a decade, what are voters to do?

Some Illinois Republicans are blaming the national Republicans for their own failures, when the reality is the nationals have merely imitated the vapid behavior of the IL GOP leadership. Illinois Republicans have remained solidly in the minority during good cycles for Republicans nationally, so to now ascribe blame elsewhere isn’t credible.

During this past campaign, the Illinois Republican strategy consisted of saying that Rod Blagojevich is “bad!” They proposed no real alternative. Just one example: the ludicrous Republican answer to Rod’s lottery sale was to greatly expand gambling. Some choice.

There was no talk of spending restraint. Most Illinois Republicans legislators seem to think Rod should just find the money for all those new and expanding programs somewhere else. They have no problem with the spending, they just don’t like extending payment periods or increasing debt levels.

Those House Republicans who merely want to tweak what the Dems are doing might want to consider switching parties. Mike Madigan needs a few more votes to get his veto-proof majority. Switching parties is an honorable thing to do, and they would have a lot more influence (and relevance) sooner by making the move.

I’d suggest that there’s little purpose in having two political parties saying the same thing. There are, after all, two directions to support — the one that doesn’t work and the one that does.

The Divide

If you think –

  • the public employee unions will someday be satisfied with the amount of tax dollars they have…
  • or that a 67% income tax increase will be good for the Illinois economy…
  • or that public education in Illinois is under funded…
  • or that increasing the taxpayers’ role in health care is the way to go…
  • or that the Illinois Constitution shouldn’t be rewritten and that future taxpayers should be obligated to fund wildly generous public pensions…

— we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

I know of Republican legislators who voted for “All Kids” because they didn’t want to have to explain that the right vote was “no.” That’s a perfect illustration of the intellectual bankruptcy of Republicans. When you’re no longer willing to make the case for the right vote maybe it’s time to let someone else have the job.

Real reforms — in all the big-ticket areas — will only come when we get a team on the field that is willing to do the work of effectively presenting good policy alternatives to the public. It isn’t going to be done through political mail, and it isn’t going to be done by legislators flying solo.

My heart goes out to those candidates who run without the kind of statewide or national support to make their case. 2006 Congressional candidates Peter Roskam and David McSweeney shouldn’t have had to struggle in their races, and we fielded several good state legislative candidates that were left to run alone.

Many of those who lost — lost because of failed leadership at the top. Some of us tried to warn about Denny Hastert and the Illinois General Assembly leadership two and a half years ago.

We’re at yet another fork in the road. It’s my view that a majority of Illinois voters will support a different and better direction if they’re only presented with the choice. Short of that, the taxeaters and all their failed policies will continue to win on election day.

Illinois will continue to be “blue” until we get some Republicans who will advance Republican principles. I admit it will be a lot of work (intellectual labor). But since the founding era there have always been big challenges facing our political leaders.

Republicans have been here before. Click here to read a speech given by Ronald Reagan after Republicans fared terribly in the 1974 elections. Here are a few good lines from it:

“Americans are hungry to feel once again a sense of mission and greatness.

I don‘t know about you, but I am impatient with those Republicans who after the last election rushed into print saying, ‘We must broaden the base of our party’—when what they meant was to fuzz up and blur even more the differences between ourselves and our opponents.

It was a feeling that there was not a sufficient difference now between the parties that kept a majority of the voters away from the polls. When have we ever advocated a closed-door policy? Who has ever been barred from participating?

Our people look for a cause to believe in. Is it a third party we need, or is it a new and revitalized second party, raising a banner of no pale pastels, but bold colors which make it unmistakably clear where we stand on all of the issues troubling the people?”