A View From the Cheap Seats

July 2, 2008

The Guv That Shoulda Been


By Rich Trzupek

It is popular, among voters of every ilk, to disparage the American electorate. There are good reasons for this, for we have surely voted our fair share of Bozos into office. Yet, I still have faith in the voters. In good times, they often, but not always, make silly choices. But, more often than not, they get it right when we face an actual crisis.

It is not a coincidence that we elect a Lincoln when the nation faces insurrection, or that a Reagan comes to power when the Cold War reaches its zenith. Great events force great choices into the forefront of the collective consciousness and, in when people examine these sorts of issues closely, they usually get it right.

Electoral foolishness, in other words, is not a matter of ignorance so much as it is a matter of indifference. In a perverse way, one may take heart that we are about to elect a non-entity like Barack Obama, so devoid of meaningful opinions and ideas. Voters only elect “high-minded” empty suits when the majority of them are fairly comfortable with their own lives, no matter how they perceive the state of the state.

Two things seem clear to me, politically speaking: the nation will elect a Democrat as President in 2008, and the next Governor of Illinois will be a Republican. Both of these results are natural consequences of the principals described above.

In the Prairie State, we can measure just how bad Governor Blagojevich’s administration has been by this: at a time when Republicans brace for a nation-wide butt-kicking, at a time when dwindling red states are hunkering down in political bomb shelters; in this extraordinary time, you would need a very powerful microscope to find anyone – in either party – who supports this two-term Governor, who was, by the way, elected by a wide majority in each election.

He is despised not only by the opposition, but by those who ought to be (and once were) his friends. He’s the purported target of multiple criminal investigations, he’s been beaten mercilessly by editorial writers across the state and he has been even considered for recall. It’s a simply remarkable state of affairs, for a man who was, not so long ago, the rising star among Illinois politicians.

We might reflect about how we got here and what we lost in making this journey. There are many fine candidates, or at least better candidates, in both parties whom we might have chosen. I had the chance to sit down with one of them for an interview a couple of week’s ago: former State Senator Steve Rauschenberger.

The interview, which you can listen to or download via The Examiner’s website (“Examiner Radio”), reveals the kind of mind that we should have in the Governor’s Mansion: agile, creative and decisive, mixed with just the right amount of pragmatism. This is not news, of course. Rauschenberger was always the darling of the editorial boards across the state when he made his aborted runs for Governor. How could he not be? I have never spoken to anyone who knows more about the way government actually works, and how it ought to work.

But, sadly, his candidacy never had traction with either of the two groups that counted most: the (in my opinion, bloated) Illinois Republican establishment, or the voters who might have overruled the party elite. Rauschenberger was never quite sexy enough, in the political sense. Yeah, he might be smart, but what’s his “Q rating”? These are the things that matter today.

So, instead, we elect guys like Blago; nice hair, good looking, but bereft of new ideas and full of arrogance.

Good Lord – we elected Ted Danson!

When you listen to Rauschenberger talk about health care, it’s hard not to wonder why his ideas don’t get more play. He understands the real roots of the problem: that the entire reimbursement system, public and private, rests on price structures set by Medicaid and Medicare, and these structures are terribly outdated and – worse – they encourage rampant inefficiencies in the system. And, since so much of the high-cost of health care may be traced to inefficiencies created by a single-payer, government-run system, does it make any sense to expand this system, as so many Democrats – and even some Republicans – propose?

Why not reform what we have instead, before we ask taxpayers and beleaguered employers to dig deeper in their pockets to reinforce failure? But then, let’s not use quite that strong of a word. “Failure” implies that some of us have no access to health care. This is an unfortunate, and incorrect, perception. The uninsured do have access to health care, they simply do not have the many choices of health care providers that the insured do. Is the answer to this problem, Rauschenberger reasonably asks, to limit choice even more through a single-payer system?

We know what the uninsured would answer, or at least how a great many of them would answer, by observing the abject failure of the Governor’s “All Kids” program. As has been widely reported, Illinois families are avoiding using the program in droves – as many as 50% of eligible families don’t use it, according to published reports – because it suffers from the very kinds of deficiencies that Rauschenberger points out.

This interview is fascinating stuff, and health care is only one part of the discussion. Rauschenberger not only lays out the problems, but he presents creative, provocative ideas to fix them. It’s not “sound bite” material, but then real, reasoned analysis has never been the stuff of slogans. And we can plainly see where electing the candidate with the best PR firm, instead of the best ideas, has gotten us in Illinois. Hopefully, we’ll do better in the future.

We missed out on a Steve Rauschenberger twice. Hopefully, we’ll find another one out there, next time around.


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