Why study war or Illinois politics?

In order for rank and file Republicans to make informed judgments about the current state of affairs here in The Prairie State we need to be frank about why we are where we are. Superficial analysis won’t get us to a fix. Study is required.

In an article published in City Journal magazine entitled “Why Study War?,” military historian and classics professor Victor Davis Hanson does a great job arguing that we learn important things about national will and culture by studying military history.

Unfortunately, he writes, universities are failing to teach the subject. Hanson says it’s troubling because “democratic citizenship requires knowledge of war…” He explains that most universities prefer to ignore anything that has to do “with such odious business…”

Illinois political history is odious business, too. It’s much easier to hope that history doesn’t matter any more and that we can all just enjoy “a new day” (as IL GOP Chairman Andy McKenna likes to say).

It’s not a new day. This is being written during a week when one former Republican governor is in front of TV cameras acting as a lawyer for another former Republican governor whose conviction has just been upheld.

Right now there are several competing historical narratives. One would have us all believe that the reason Republican Party principles aren’t advanced is due to a divide within the IL GOP between “moderates” and “conservatives.” Since “conservatives” are on both sides of the real divide, that story doesn’t hold up.

Another narrative sees the lack of “unity” on the party of “conservatives” as the problem. The 2005/2006 Protect Marriage Illinois effort forever blew up that theory. “Conservatives” were united on the issue; they just weren’t united in an understanding of what real grassroots political work actually is. Talk and empty organizations is what grassroots means to too many long time Illinois activists.

An enormous part of the problem here in Illinois can be summed up by just referring to the “personnel” issue. We’ve noted this before:

In his best selling book “Good to Great,” author Jim Collins writes that he expected the first step to success in building a successful enterprise was going to be setting –

…a new direction, a new vision and strategy for the company, and then to get people committed and aligned behind that new direction.

We found something quite the opposite.

The executives who ignited the transformation from good to great did not first figure out where to drive the bus and then get the people to take it there. No, they first got the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and then figured out where to drive it.

Those who primarily want to feel good about their participation in politics don’t want to have to face the music when it comes to the people on the field…

As with any business, sports, or other enterprise that fails consistently, it’s an unpleasant fact that you probably have a people problem. Good judgment tells us that the same old cast of characters who have held responsible positions in places where the power exists (as mentioned above) will have to be replaced. Good judgment must over-ride the desire for good feelings.

The sooner it’s done, the sooner the IL GOP will be able to attract high quality candidates and committed volunteers into its ranks.

Part of this is the need for new motivations as well. The sad reality is that most of those who currently occupy legislative seats as Republicans are pursuing their own interests, and those interests don’t correspond all that much with the interests of taxpayers, supporters of limited government or traditional values. If they did, by now we would’ve seen evidence of it.

Victor Davis Hanson writes:

A wartime public illiterate about the conflicts of the past can easily find itself paralyzed in the acrimony of the present. Without standards of historical comparison, it will prove ill equipped to make informed judgments.

Those words could be applied to the Illinois political problem as well.

In an interview he gave about that City Journal article mentioned above, Hanson was asked a question about how we overcome the problem of how poorly military history is being taught. His answer began was a bold indictment of the current class of university professionals:

I’m afraid an entire generation must pass first.

In a similar vein, we doubt that much can be salvaged from the current crop of Illinois Republican state legislators. They’ve had plenty of time to show they understand what they’re up against and how their approach to their job must change.

Despite the opportunity of a historic overtime session, they still show no signs of life or of a willingness to do things differently.

The good news is that several incumbents are heading for the exits. There always is turnover, but our hope is that this time the new blood brings with it new thinking.

For those who don’t want to help advance Republican principles but aren’t quite ready to retire, State Representative Paul Froehlich has provided a great example. Ideological Democrats should become actual Democrats. It’s the honest thing to do.