Thursday, January 31, 2008

'Obama Country' ad is nothing more than an "idiot" card

My “idiot” card arrived in my mail Wednesday.

Now I can breathe a sigh of relief, as I finally know how I am supposed to vote come Tuesday’s primary elections. At least that’s how the Cook County Democratic Party wants me to react now that I have received their mailing telling me how to cast my ballot. John Kerry's presidential campaign unsuccessfully used these palm cards in 2004 to try to distinguish themselves from President Bush. Illustration provided by Kerry/Edwards campaign.

I received a campaign mailing telling me the party’s slate of candidates running for countywide offices here in the Land of Cook.

So now I realize that Joseph Berrios is a quality public official who deserves to have yet another term on the Cook County Board of Review, the panel that oversees tax appeals. I’m sure the fact that Berrios is also chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party had nothing to do with his endorsement for re-election to his government post.

Such cards are not new. The “Chicago machine” has used palm cards for decades. They are meant to be disposable and small (tiny enough to fit in the palm of one’s hand), and to provide a “friendly reminder” of which candidates have the official support of the party leadership.

They get the nickname of “idiot” cards because they allegedly are meant for people who are so absentminded/stupid that they need a blunt reminder of who the organization wants to get support – and more importantly, who it does NOT want to see anymore after Election Day.

But this palm card differs from past examples because of its quality; four pages printed on a full-color, quality posterboard stock. At first glance, it looks like a little book, at the very least a campaign brochure.

It also is larger than the traditional palm card – each page measures 6 x 9.25 inches. The only way I can fit it in the “palm” of my hand is if I hold it with my old baseball glove (a Bud Harrelson model, for those who are curious).

The card also is put together in a more sophisticated manner than usual palm cards, which typically are nothing more than a list of names.

Its cover promotes Barack Obama’s presidential campaign with a silhouette of the United States and the state of Illinois highlighted as “Obama Country.” At first glance, I thought I had received a brochure from the Obama campaign.

When I opened it up and saw pictures and quotes from Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., I thought that maybe I had received a Durbin campaign brochure urging support for Obama based on the concept of party unity. But upon further inspection, it became obvious that it was just a glossy idiot card.

The card contains a “sample ballot” listing all the slated candidates in Cook County, along with the small-print legalese informing me that I can take the card into the voting booth with me when I make my visit Tuesday to the neighborhood Lutheran church (which in my neighborhood doubles as an Election Day polling place).

After scouring all four pages, I found the very tiny typeface telling me the card was, “Paid for by the Cook County Democratic Party.”

A part of me feels like I’m handling sleaze, since the party obviously spent quite a bit of money on printing up these idiot cards. One does not get this quality of paper and so much full color (including color photographs of every judicial candidate the Cook County Democratic Party wants to see retained) without spending some serious cash.

I also feel simple-minded after reading the portion telling me that Democrats stand for “good schools,” “safe neighborhoods,” “quality healthcare” and “clean environment.” Does anyone seriously oppose such vague pronouncements? I have never heard of any campaign – GOP or Dem – that said publicly it favors bad schools and wants rotten healthcare.

There must have been something more worthwhile that the money could have been spent on. A voter registration effort to get people to actually vote would have been a morally superior cause, even though I realize that political professionals actually do not want higher voter turnout unless they could be assured that ALL of the additional votes would be for their candidate.

Will anybody actually take this card with them into the polling place? I know in past years I have seen people take various voter aids into the voting booth when they mark up their ballot. Usually, it is a newspaper advertisement put together by some activist group that wants to get candidates elected who are sympathetic to their cause.

I have always wondered just why such ads and cards do not constitute electioneering. After all, there are limits on how close campaign workers can come to a polling place before their activity is officially considered illegal influence of a voter.

Back in 1988 when I was a general assignment reporter for the now-defunct City News Bureau of Chicago, I had a police officer watching me like a hawk on Election Day. I had been assigned to talk to people as they got ready to vote, in hopes of doing some icky-sweet feature about the experience of casting a ballot in Chicago. The cop was trying to make sure that I was not telling people inside the polling place who to vote for.

I suppose the idea that one voluntarily chooses which idiot cards (if any) to take with them into a voting booth is what makes it legal. But if I were feeling malicious, I could try to influence others inside the polling place by making sure they saw the card with its “Stay True Blue” logo in my possession.

There’s only one “flaw” to this version of an idiot card. It does not tell me for whom to vote for Cook County state’s attorney. That’s because the party itself did not slate any candidate to replace retiring prosecutor Dick Devine.

Hence, the primary for that office is a free-for-all. Six candidates, each of whom have legitimate credentials on paper for the post are fighting each other for the right to challenge the Republican nominee come the Nov. 4 general election.

So for the position of state’s attorney, the publishers of the idiot card have let me down. I’m actually going to have to make up my own mind.

It’s a good thing my mail also included a full-color, glossy campaign card from state’s attorney hopeful Howard Brookins, telling me that he’s an ace (as in a deck of playing cards), compared to opponents Larry Suffredin, Tom Allen and Bob Milan who are merely kings, and future GOP candidate Tony Peraica, who is a joker and, “a right-wing zealot.”

Seeing that kind of silly campaign trash almost sways me to cast my ballot for one of the candidates he didn’t mention – Anita Alvarez, who is a deputy to departing prosecutor Devine.

Now I’m sure that some of the candidates named on the idiot card are qualified officials. I may even vote for some of them.

But I think I’m going to leave the cards at home come Tuesday. I’ll follow the Cook County Democratic Party’s lead for state’s attorney and apply it to the entire ballot.

When I walk into the voting booth (these days, it’s little more than a computer touch screen with next to nothing to provide a sense of privacy), I’ll just have to think for myself.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Cook County Democrats have a special website ( to back up the idiot card message that people should ignore Republicans come Election Day. Aside from naming the slated candidates, there’s little of significance on the site. The party’s official website ( doesn’t offer much more information.

The Vermont Democratic Party offers this template ( for putting together one’s own palm cards on any issue. What Cook County Democrats have put together is much more sophisticated graphically than this.

For those who wonder why the Chicago Argus focuses so intently on Democrats, it is because the Republican Party in Chicago is virtually extinct in local elections. Here is one of the few bits of evidence ( they even exist in the Second City.


Anonymous said...

Greg - In the 19th Ward we are trying to create a Republican Organization.

I'm running for Republican Committeeman against Jim Parilli who is esentially a Democrat. He donates to the local Democratic leadership consistently. Why would a Republican Committeeman support local Democrats. Very odd.

Vote for a real Republican on Feb 5.

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