Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Passing of a political era? Not necessarily for the public good

Time passes. Circumstances change. It’s probably for the best that people move on as well, or else we’d have a lot of frustrated old-timers disgusted at what had become of the institutions to which they devoted their lives.

To me, a reminder of the way things change politically was evidenced by the passing of a pair of members of Illinois’ congressional delegation who became serious players on the national political scene – but who might not even be electable in the 21st Century.

LANE EVANS OF the Quad Cities died last week due to complications from Parkinson’s Disease – which was the reason he stepped down from his House of Representatives’ seat in 2006 following 24 years on Capitol Hill.

While Phil Crane, who represented the Northwest suburbs in Congress for 35 years, died Saturday at the home of his daughter in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C.

Crane was a Republican who was a strong supporter of Ronald Reagan – even though for a short time in 1980 he considered running for president against the “Gipper.” While Evans was a Democrat who was a strong supporter of organized labor who had one of the most hostile voting records in Congress.

Hostile, that is, if one believed that Reagan was a deity whose stances ought to be worshipped.

YET BOTH MANAGED to survive for so long in Congress because they always managed to keep the interests of their home districts in mind.

Evans was one of those members of Congress who made a point of returning to his home district every weekend, going out of his way not to become a semi-permanent resident of the District of Columbia.

He knew that it wouldn’t matter what kind of national reputation he would develop if people back home who actually voted for him felt he wasn’t paying attention to their concerns.

Which may be why those in his western Illinois congressional district of more conservative ideological leanings were willing to keep sending him back to Washington, and he ultimately got to step down on (sort of) his own terms – rather than leaving in defeat (like Brad Schneider, whose loss last week means Robert Dold gets a political comeback of his own, but that’s a different story).

NOW, THE ILLINOIS political scene has become so partisan based on an urban vs. rural split, it is likely that those western Illinois voters would have dumped on Evans merely for refusing to be a part of the Republican Party.

Look at last week’s gubernatorial election – where Pat Quinn lost 101 of Illinois’ 102 counties, but still could have won if certain wards on Chicago’s North Side had turned out to vote in larger numbers.

We’ve become partisan to the point where the existence of a future Lane Evans is questionable. Although I wonder if we’ve become so stringent in our political definitions that even a Phil Crane is unlikely.

Strictly speaking, Crane would be sympathetic to the modern-day ideologues who have taken over the congressional leadership. His death warranted a statement from Illinois Republican Chairman Tim Schneider that said Crane, “will have a lasting effect for generations to come.”

BUT IN TODAY’S era, I have to wonder if Crane – a former professor of history at Peoria’s Bradley University – would be considered too academic. As though his PhD (Indiana University) would make him suspicious to those who want to think that the political and academic people make situations overly complicated.

For those who want rigidity to ideology over any of those annoying things called “facts.” For those who think that somebody like Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and his rhetorical nonsense ought to be taken seriously.

The fact that he was among those who backed Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential aspirations (is it, “In your heart, you know he’s right?” or “In your guts, you know he’s nuts”) might make some think he’s too old to appreciate the modern era – regardless of what he actually believed.

Which makes me wonder if someday Evans (whose funeral services were Monday) and Crane (whose funeral will be Thursday) will wind up commiserating in the hereafter – looking down on Capitol Hill and commiserating about how the current era of knuckleheads have made a complete mess of things!


EDITOR’S NOTE: On this Veterans Day, we should remember: Phil Crane served two years in the U.S. Army, while Lane Evans was a Marine.

No comments: