What U.S. Sen. Peter Fitzgerald Should Do

“I’m thinking about trying to make sure Peter has an opponent…I think we can do better than him.”

— Illinois Republican Congressman Ray LaHood as quoted in the Chicago Sun-Times, November 25, 2002 referring to U.S. Senator Peter Fitzgerald.

Reading the above makes me think Congressman LaHood may have spent too much time learning from his former boss Minority Leader Congressman Bob Michael, a man who had a gift for remaining in the minority.

Since I’ve yet to read any issues-based reason for LaHood’s dissatisfaction with Senator Fitzgerald, I’m guessing this is just one more example of the kind of petty personality and power clashes that erupt among people who should instead concentrate on doing their job. (Newt Gingrich recently said it nicely, “Governing is really about refocusing massive bureaucracies.”)

Clearly, Senator Fitzgerald doesn’t play the game like the establishment figures demand, as demonstrated in the Lincoln Library farce. In Illinois, that alone is reason for political excommunication. I’d guess that Peter, as LaHood refers to him, isn’t as concerned about securing the kind of political goodies that come with the job.

The argument can be made that Peter Fitzgerald is exactly what we need. He’s got guts. No better proof exists than how he’s continued to stand against the desired expansion of a corrupt O’Hare airport. Many still are waiting for a Chicago media outlet to do an exposé on the insider deals and taxpayer funded ghost pay rolling at O’Hare. Good aviation policy is not the bottom line for everybody.

Peter Fitzgerald has got the brains. This is not to say I’ve agreed with everything he’s said or done, but when he talks one can tell he’s not spewing the talking points of others. Peter thinks for himself, and still calls it like he sees it as he did eleven years ago when he was a mere candidate for the General Assembly.

To top it off, he’s young, so he can potentially be around for a good while, and wealthy, so he can easily remain independent of the negative pressures from the powers that be.

As a counter to the attacks, I’d suggest that our Republican U.S. Senator spend the next two years generating an unprecedented public dialog in Illinois about a few important federal domestic policy issues. Just like the Bush Administration has done on the war on terror and homeland security, Peter should do with a few big chiefly domestic issues like tax simplification, health care, and retirement security.

After all, our political discourse isn’t what it should be about. While we’re subject to the news of personality tiffs and power spats, the Tax Eater Industrial Complex rolls along and backroom deals continue to escape the radar of the voters and the media.

Senator Fitzgerald should ignore the same old vapid conventional wisdom that says the public isn’t interested in the substance. He should realize that he could be driving poll numbers and not just responding to them. The political “experts” think the mood of the electorate is like the weather – nothing can be done about it. The truth is real leadership understands the need for innovation and fosters the kind of public debates that shape voters’ attitudes.

I am well aware that this concept is foreign to most political people, not a group known for its vision. But the concept of selling an idea is not much different than selling a new product. More than enough expertise exists in this country to do it, where we’ve made an art and science out of public relations, marketing, and advertising. Executing such a media plan is putting the wheel to work, not inventing it.

Should Mr. LaHood and others engineer a plot against him, Peter would be well advised to force the focus onto the issues. Senator Fitzgerald has got the freedom and ability to choose either a conventional or innovative strategy to combat his opponents.

I’m hoping he chooses the latter.