Thursday, February 24, 2011

What a difference two-plus years make

It seems like so long ago that night back in November 2008 when Barack Obama went from being our senator to the nation’s president. One of the aspects of the voter tallies that I found particularly inspiring was the fact that the Midwest seemed united by the idea.

From Detroit through Kansas City and into Iowa, these places with substantial rural communities that often view Chicago as some sort of twisted island in their midst were behind the idea of one of our city’s own as the nation’s chief executive.

HIS DESIRES OF “hope” and “change,” while hokey, were admirable. Certainly more admirable than the rhetoric we hear these days that seem to have returned us in the Midwest to a status where Chicago stands out among the farm fields.

I’d like to think that the poisonous sea of rhetoric that is drowning out the rest of the Midwest is not taking us down in Chicago because we have a high-ground, of sorts.

At least that’s what it looks like to me when I see all these political people from surrounding states fleeing to Chicago or other parts of Illinois as a last-ditch effort to thwart measures that are so blatantly ideological – and being rammed through their respective Legislatures by people who want their opposition to “bleed” profusely from the political wounds.

I wrote last week how appalled I was by political activity in Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker is pushing for the same kind of legislation that exists in many Southern states to undermine the concept of labor unions.

“RIGHT TO WORK” means that people don’t have to join the union local that represents the workers of their employer, if they choose not to. Which is all good and fine, until one considers the intimidation that workers who have an interest in joining the union will suffer as a result.

Republican legislators in Wisconsin were prepared to ram this through until Democratic opposition managed to come up with a way to prevent the state Legislature from acting upon anything.

The result is that Wisconsin has become an epicenter for political activity and labor law. It also has become a role model, of sorts. Indiana state officials who were opposed to their Republican leadership trying an equally ideological political grab have done the same thing.

Because both of these states are in proximity to Illinois and because we still have the overwhelming Democratic leadership of our state government that wouldn’t collude with Wisconsin or Indiana officials, we’re getting the brunt of these out-of-state legislators who are in political exile.

IN INDIANA, THE right-to-work measure went down to defeat because it had a specific deadline for passage, and the Legislature was ground to a halt because of a lack of Democrats. Both parties must have members present for any activity to take place, which makes all the sense in the world.

Just think of what Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, could achieve in our state if he could just lock out the Republican opposition from the chambers. So I don’t want to hear from Republican partisans (actually, the conservative ideologues) about how wrong the law is for allowing this maneuver to exist.

In Indiana, officials say that up to 46 bills will die if the state Legislature remains shuttered for the week.

Meanwhile, we have these legislators spending their time in Illinois so as to avoid the chance that their local police go overboard and try to haul someone in handcuffs to the Legislature to force them to vote.

AT LEAST INDIANA Gov. Mitch Daniels has said he has no intention of getting his state police involved in this mess, on the very legitimate claim that they have real law enforcement business to tend to.

Which is more than one can say for Walker in Wisconsin, who has tried using police for intimidation practices – even though by law they can’t arrest legislators during the scheduled session.

I guess our state has become the beacon for the people who don’t want to play games with the people in order to advance purely conservative ideological agendas. Which actually is enough to make me proud these days (although I also got a kick out of Gov. Pat Quinn recently saying he would not pay up on his bet with Walker related to the Chicago Bears’ 21-14 loss last month to the Green Bay Packers because of this political activity).

Particularly since our voters this week rejected the purely ideological claims of those individuals who were eager to see former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel go down to defeat politically because of his past ties to Obama and former President Bill Clinton.

THERE MAY WELL be people in this country who are looking at Chicago and Illinois these days and are gnashing their teeth in anger because we’re “harboring” (they would say) Democratic legislators who are refusing to be battered about by Republican ideologues, AND picked “MareRahm-bo” to lead us for the next four years.

I can’t help but think it is merely because we have enough sense not to fall for the same political games that too much of the rest of the country is vulnerable to.

And the reason we are housing (for the time being) those legislators whose absence has ground their states to a half is because we in Chicago can appreciate hard-ball political tactics at work – particularly if they undermine someone whose own use of political hardball was meant to harm real people.


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