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Illinois is doing lousy? No, it’s doing great

Updated: May 1, 2014 6:53AM



Were I to ask you what color seat you would like on your bus trip to Cleveland, you would probably reply, “But I’m not going to Cleveland.”

Were I to insist, fanning a few fabric swatches before you — maroon, a powdery blue, hunter green — you would answer, “It doesn’t MATTER what color, because I don’t want to take a bus to Cleveland!”

Sadly, this simple logic escapes us when it comes to matters political. We fall to debating specifics — the color of the seat — ignoring a key overarching fact: Some of us want to take the trip; others don’t.

The original intention of this column was to look at the state of Illinois with a cool, dispassionate eye and ask: Is Bruce Rauner right? Are we really much worse off under Gov. Pat Quinn? Rauner points to our 8.7 percent unemployment, second highest in the nation. The Quinn people, however, observe that when he took office, it was 11.4 percent. Rauner focuses on the bloat of government, Quinn on how much has been cut.

Who’s right? The bottom line is, for purposes of conversation, that it doesn’t matter. These stats are specifics: the color of the seat. And no number or group of numbers is going to make Rauner supporters shift to Quinn, or Quinn supporters decide that a rich guy with no experience in government is qualified to run the state. I won’t say which side I’m on, but you can guess.

What decides our default, which bin, Republican or Democrat, we live in? I could be a cynic and say it’s your parents’ political party. Most follow the leanings of their parents and never question it. Having been born blinking into one particular camp, we just shrug and spend our lives there, plucking reasons to justify it as they float by.

But pretend, for a moment, that we could actually make the choice. What puts us in one party or another is not pegged to the unemployment levels in Illinois or what the tax rate is, but how you answer the following simple, Cleveland-or-no, five-word question: Is government good or bad?

Not just Illinois government. All government. If you think government is a good thing, in the main, then you’re a Democrat. You want preschoolers to get that cup of free morning gruel, want rehab clinics for drug addicts. A disaster strikes — and Illinois has been hit with 11 natural disasters since Quinn took office — and you want the government to show up with backhoes and fresh water. If companies are selling tainted meat, then you want the USDA to be on them like a cloud of hornets.

If you don’t like government, you’re a Republican. You want to cut taxes and slice deficits until there isn’t any money to fund all those programs that only help people you wish didn’t exist anyway. If companies are selling tainted meat, well, then people should be savvy enough not to buy it.

The situation is more complicated. Some government programs bug Democrats: farm subsidies for instance. And Republicans embrace Medicare, out of self-preservation, and blow kisses at the military, as if it weren’t as purely a government function as the National Endowment for the Arts.

Me, I’m Democratic by breeding — my parents are Democrats; my father, in fact, worked for the government, NASA, for most of his career. And by choice. I make that decision by what I call the Baby Conundrum. If you find a baby on your doorstep, you either a) raise it yourself b) take it to the nearest church or c) call the cops.

To me, a) is strange and nobody would do it; b) is theoretical and while Republicans pay lip service, they never call their church to report a fire. The rational person answers is c). You want a government that cares for abandoned babies (fetuses aren’t babies, your Pavlovian bell isn’t ringing) and schools them and treats them when they’re sick. I’ve never heard an argument that explains why that logic falls apart as they get older. To me, the Republican stance against the Affordable Care Act is a shameful nadir of cold-hearted wrongheadedness that someday will be seen as being in keeping with their stance on race and women, and the entire litany of wrongheaded, selfish notions they’ve clung to until the second they’re pried out of their soft little hands.

Getting back to Illinois. I would be for Quinn because he fixed the pension mess that grew under his forebears of both parties, and he signed marriage equality into law even though his faith dictated otherwise. That’s another dividing line: Is religion a private matter? Or a whip to make your neighbors/employees do what they don’t want to? Dems to the left, GOP to the right. Oh, and consider a trip to Cleveland. Friendly folk, remodeled art museum. It’s very nice.

Email: nsteinberg@suntimes.com

Twitter: @NeilSteinberg



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