A View From the Cheap Seats

July 11, 2007

Changing Sides

Filed under: Politics,State — trzupek @ 8:58 pm


Changing Sides

By Rich Trzupek

While Benedict Arnold was a courageous brilliant general during the Revolutionary War, perhaps the best that we had, that fact is long forgotten. Today Benedict Arnold is remembered for one thing and one thing only. And that particular thing is so well known that there is no need to say what it is. Everybody knows what a “Benedict Arnold” is.

State Rep Paul Froelich shows none of Arnold’s accomplishment. Nobody would use the words “brilliant” or “courageous” to describe Froelich. But a guy who is elected as a member of one party and switches to another party without having the courage to go through another election qualifies for a Benedict Arnold award.

As America’s original turncoat, Arnold at least elicits a certain sad, regretful sense of nostalgia among learned historians who understand what he contributed to America’s revolution and what he might have been.

His is a tragic story, of vast potential unfulfilled. For a brief period of time, Arnold was a shooting star, flashing across the sky, before his star ultimately vanished in a cesspool of self interest.

Froelich will not receive even that bit of kind treatment in the decades to come. While Arnold actually made a difference, Froelich hasn’t accomplished a damn thing, except in the most mundane, political sense. He started where Arnold ended. That tells you all you need to know about Froelich’s legacy.

Their stories converge, eventually, but not from the beginning. At the beginning Arnold was a true patriot. He stormed a British fort in Canada in impossible conditions. He built a fleet, out of virtually nothing and defeated a British fleet on Lake Chaplain in upstate New York, checking a British advance.

Most importantly, it was Arnold who almost single-handily won the series of battles we now know as Saratoga. Injured and confined to quarters by his incredibly incompetent superior, Horatio Gates, Arnold defied orders to lead his troops to victory.

Both had their femme fatales. Arnold had his wife Peggy Shippen, a British sympathizer who was sure that Arnold didn’t get his due. Paul has Marilyn, or as insiders call her: “she who must be obeyed.”

Both aspired to a higher position, which is much different than aspiring to serve a higher cause. Arnold saw the power of the British empire and decided that it was the future. What kind of future? That didn’t matter. Arnold decided to hitch his star to what he believed was the winner.

It’s much the same for Froelich. No doubt it’s hard to be a Republican in Springfield these days. The Democrats control House, Senate and the Governor’s mansion. What can an Illinois Republican accomplish in 2007? Not much.

But this is precisely the situation that defines character. It’s easy to stand by a cause when you’re winning. It takes courage, commitment and character to hang tough when everything and everyone is against you. But, for those who do have that kind of courage, the world remembers. Just consider Winston Churchill, circa 1935. Everybody thought he was nuts about then. Five years later, everyone realized he was truly a man of principle.

Guys like State Senator John Millner hold fast in Churchill’s tradition. Millner’s vote may not mean a lot at the moment, but he will be heard and he should be saluted for having the courage of his convictions.

Froelich switched sides, supposedly to accomplish something, but all he will accomplish is to give Mike Madigan another tame vote.

Having openly worked both sides of the street in the last election, and not doing all that much in the election that preceded it, Republicans were happy to see Froelich go. Fed up with his double dealing, leadership pressed him to pick a side and stick with it.

And, finally, he has. His choice will not turn out as wonderfully as he thought.

When Arnold switched sides, he soon realized that he had chose a nightmare. As a traitor, his new British masters neither trusted nor respected him. He was given a command, but he was closely watched. By his own admission, Arnold believed in nothing more than Arnold. He was beholden to his new master, and he had no place to turn. He would never again be the unselfish, determined hero he once was. He was, from then on , nothing but a lackey.

Froelich was never a hero. His choice now guarantees he never will be. He has demonstrated that he believes in nothing more than Paul Froelich. His old party will never respect him and his new party can not trust him. In very short order, Paul Froelich will discover – like Benedict Arnold – that he’s living a waking nightmare. But that’s fitting, for it’s a nightmare of his own making.


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