November 2008 Issue
by Jay Gentile
Even the igloo-inhabiting freaks of Northern Mongolia have probably heard of Barack Obama by now. In the past 18 months, this magazine, this country, and indeed the majority of the inhabitants of this planet have learned a great deal about the once-obscure junior senator from Illinois. We’ve watched him announce his candidacy on the steps of the Old State Capitol Building in Springfield in February 2007. We’ve watched him upset the mighty Hillary Clinton in the Iowa caucus in January 2008. We’ve watched him lock up the Democratic Party’s delegate tally in June, and watched him proudly accept his party’s nomination in Denver in August…
Yet the biggest surprise of this election has to be the tragic downfall of John McCain — whose “ends justify the means” approach to campaigning has resulted in one of the most dumbed-down, vapid and mean-spirited campaigns in the history of the modern Republican Party. While the GOP has a long history of relying on ignorance and fear to help push their more conservative candidates over the edge, McCain’s general election campaign has, for the most part, consisted of nothing but ignorance and fear. This is a particularly surprising strategy given the deeply positive reservoir of public goodwill, painstakingly built up over 26 productive years on Capitol Hill, that McCain could have run on — and which many of us expected him to. Perhaps it was the only card he could play. Perhaps there was no other way of digging himself out of the tremendous hole that the disastrous Bush Administration has boxed Republican candidates into this fall. Maybe. But it’s still no excuse.
In the end, McCain made a cold calculation to embrace the exact types of negative campaign tactics that ruined him in his admirable 2000 primary race against George W. Bush. Should he go on to lose this election (as late-October polling seemed to indicate) this decision will, and rightly should, haunt him for the rest of his life. McCain’s cynical deal with the devil wasn’t just simply to embrace the same Karl Rove-style smear tactics that buried him in South Carolina in 2000, where Rove’s slime team spread rumors that McCain had fathered an illegitimate black baby. No, McCain’s peculiar case of Stockholm Syndrome went one step further when he hired the very same people who carried out this dirty work against him in 2000 to blast the same pathetic robocall bullshit at Obama in 2008, this time on McCain’s dime. And for that reason, if no other, John McCain deserves to lose this election. He should be ashamed of himself. And we have a feeling that, deep down inside, he is.
By contrast, Barack Obama has a run an extremely organized and professional campaign that, while not immune from negative campaigning or instances of doublespeak (like when he said he’d accept public financing then reversed himself), is overall just a much more positive affair. Supporters want to vote for him and not just against McCain, whose campaign has consisted of little more than “don’t vote for the other guy” because A) he’s a Muslim terrorist, B) he’ll raise your taxes, and C) did I mention he’s black? Obama also appeals to our more intellectual nature and has selected a vice-presidential running mate in Joe Biden who is actually suited for the job. McCain, by contrast, made a blatant appeal to the worst in us with choice of the embarrassing Sarah Palin and the same old us-against-them, red state vs. blue state, real America vs. Commie country horseshit that she embraces. It’s the same divisive, simple-minded “they hate us for our freedom” logic that lies at much of core of the Bush Administration and explains much of its failure. It’s the very sentiment that has torn this country apart over the past few decades and has kept us from solving the big issues facing us today. And it’s an attitude for which the American people finally seem to have precious little appetite remaining.
Barack Obama has based much of his candidacy in stark opposition to maintaining or amplifying such divisiveness. While there isn’t a whole lot in Obama’s history to suggest that he alone would be able to heal America’s vast cultural divide, he has demonstrated a clear track record of listening to all sides of an issue and carefully deliberating in a common-sense manner before settling on a resolution. After eight years of the “shoot from the hip” George W. Bush doctrine that has resulted in a disastrously unnecessary war, an economy on the brink of collapse and a palpable national feeling of discontent, the key to bringing America back from life support is going to be consensus-building, both at home and abroad. Barack Obama has shown an ability to build such consensus throughout his career, and throughout his campaign. We feel he has in him the ability to become a truly exceptional president — which is the exact type of leadership America needs right now to rescue it from the brink. For this reason, above all others, we are happy to be casting our vote for Barack Obama. For the first time in our lifetime, we are thrilled to be voting for the Democratic Party’s nominee for president and not just against the Republican as the lesser-of-two-evils option. This is a vote we will make with great pride.
Everyone knows that Obama-Biden and McCain-Palin are on the ballot, but Illinois voters might also be surprised to see five other choices for president and vice president on their Nov. 4 ballot. In looking at a sample ballot obtained by Chicago Innerview, I know I was. There is of course perennial candidate Ralph Nader, running this time as an independent with Matt Gonzalez. We respect Nader and all he’s done to protect the rights of the consumer class over the years, but we just can’t get behind him for president. We acknowledge the need for more diverse representation in government besides the 2-party system that has a stranglehold over Washington, but since he can’t win what’s the point of taking away Democratic votes that could? Just ask Al Gore. Also on the ballot is Libertarian candidate Bob Barr, Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney, Constitution Party of Illinois candidate Charles Baldwin and New Party candidate John Joseph Polachek, a mysterious Chicagoan with no web site, no contact information, no available photo, and no running mate. Are these really the best five people America could come up with to challenge the mighty Democratic and Republican establishment? Give me a break.
Illinois senior senator and current House Majority Whip Dick Durbin is also up for re-election this year in a contest we haven’t heard a whole hell of a lot about — besides seeing one Durbin billboard on the outbound Kennedy. Durbin has been leading his Republican opponent Steve Sauerberg by over 20 points since polling began, and a mid-Sept poll had him up 56-35. Durbin seems a shoe-in for a third term, and we wholeheartedly support this underrated senator in his re-election effort. Also on our Chicago sample ballot, Democrat Luis Gutierrez is up for re-election in the 4th U.S. House of Representatives District against Republican challenger Daniel Cunningham. In one of the safest Democratic districts in the country, Gutierrez won his last election in 2006 by a margin of 86-14 and looks poised to crush the competition yet again. While we don’t know much about him, we would like to keep strong Democratic representation in the House and will be voting for him.
In the Cook County State’s Attorney’s race, we’ve been impressed with Anita Alvarez and her upset in the 6-way Feb. 5 Democratic Party primary in the race to succeed retiring State’s Attorney Richard Devine. As the current number three official in Devine’s office, she also seems infinitely more qualified than perennial Republican challenger and current Cook County Commissioner Tony Peraica. Alvarez seems poised to become the first woman as well as the first Hispanic to lead the State’s Attorney’s Office, and we endorse her in her efforts. As for the questions regarding judicial retention that make up much of the remainder of the Cook County general election ballot this November, we don’t know who the hell any of these people are. So we’ll be leaving those ones blank.
Another important local issue that has gotten lost in America’s collective obsession with the presidential race is a proposal for the state of Illinois to hold a constitutional convention in which delegates selected by voters would propose amendments to the Illinois constitution. Such a question is automatically placed on the ballot every 20 years, and when the measure last appeared on the ballot in 1988 it failed by a vote of 900,000 for and 2.7 million against, with another million choosing neither option. The constitution was last amended in 1968, at which time the then 100-year-old state constitution was modernized with the support of a broad consensus across the state.
This time around there is no broad consensus, with both sides making valid arguments. Those who oppose the amendment say it would throw the entire constitution up for grabs and would be dominated by special interests, not regular people, while costing taxpayers up to $80 million. While voters might be extremely unhappy with the way government in Illinois is currently being run, opponents say the real way to fix the problem is to elect new leaders. Yet the vast array of powerful interests that are opposing the measure is cause for concern, with most of the state’s influential lobbying organizations lined up in opposition in an effort to preserve the status quo. Their collective efforts to scare off support in favor of the measure seems to have been successful thus far, with a mid-October poll showing 45% opposed and 21% in favor — a reversal of the 39% in favor and 18% opposed in January. They and other such opponents also warn against the unintended consequences of such a convention, which could result in the creation of new problems rather than the solutions to existing ones.
The problem with this argument is that any and all proposed changes to the constitution would each have to be voted on by the public at large before any such change is implemented. For this reason, and because we think it would be interesting to take part in such a convention while at the same time signaling our discontent with the way the state is being run, we are endorsing a “yes” vote on the proposed constitutional amendment. Also on the ballot in Cook County is a separate “public question” asking voters if the constitution should be amended in order “to establish a recall process for the office of Governor and other statewide elected officials.” Voting “yes” will not result in any official action; the question is merely an advisory opinion which serves basically as a public poll. It follows the failure of a proposed constitutional amendment to establish such a recall process in the Illinois Senate on May 1, in which the measure fell just three votes shy of passage. With the governor’s approval rating currently hovering below President Bush’s at an abysmal 13%, we suspect that many voters will support this public question. We also will be voting “yes” on the recall question, not so much out of our displeasure with the current governor but more because the measure would grant additional powers to regular citizens.
CI Political File #010