In a year when the electorate is expected to repudiate the president’s policies at the polls, there is a certain irony to the fact that this rejection may include not only Barack Obama’s home state, but his old Senate seat as well. Illinois has been a solidly blue state for over a decade now. This is not so much because its residents have abandoned traditional Midwestern values as it is because the Chicago machine’s corrupting influence has been so effective in keeping Democrats in office for so long and in suppressing opposition. Yet, even with the machine’s tentacles extending into virtually every level of state and local government, it still stands a very good chance at losing the Senate seat that Barack Obama himself once occupied – the seat that disgraced ex-Governor Rod Blagojevich wanted to auction off – the seat that might ultimately decide the balance of power in the United States Senate.
According to the latest Rasmussen polls, Democrats are expected to hold at least forty eight Senate seats in this election, with Republicans holding forty six. That leaves six seats in the “toss up” category. Illinois is one of the swing states that the Democrats clearly don’t feel they can afford to lose. There’s more than control of the Senate involved here. For, if Democrats lose the president’s old seat, especially after Obama has worked so hard to make sure that it stays in Democratic hands, the loss of face would be too much to bear. Republican candidate Mark Kirk currently holds a four point lead in the polls over his Democratic opponent, Alexi Giannoulias, according to Rasmussen. That’s hardly a guarantee of GOP victory, but the fact that this race is this close says that even Illinois is starting to wake up to the reality of Chicago-style politics.
It speaks volumes about the arrogance of the Chicago machine that it would nominate and support the corruption-plagued Giannoulias. Similarly, the president’s unqualified, enthusiastic support for a candidate who has so many question marks on his resume makes it clear that Obama isn’t any closer to abandoning his machine roots today than he was in 2008. But this is the nature of politics in my home state. The word “brazen” doesn’t cover half of it. The Chicago cabal gave us a candidate for the highest office in the land who was pals with Bill Ayers, whose spiritual mentor routinely spews hate and racism from the pulpit, and who sat quietly in the Illinois State Senate while one of the most corrupt and incompetent governors in the nation’s history systematically destroyed state government and ruined the state’s economy. Once you’ve pulled off that coup, you’ve got to figure that you can get away with just about anything.
And so they gave us Alexi Giannoulias, a candidate who not only approved millions of dollars in loans to mobsters, but lied about doing so, claiming “he didn’t know the extent of their activity.” Apparently Alexi knew that convicted mobsters Michael “Jaws” Giorango and Demitri Stavropoulos were “actively” engaged in criminal enterprises to some extent, just not exactly how much. This is what passes as justification in Giannoulias’s world. Perhaps Alexi didn’t believe that bookmaking and running a prostitution ring – the crimes for which Giorango and Stavropoulous were convicted – were not all that much of a concern. But then, Giannoulias is the same guy who said that he quit his job as a loan officer in the family business, Broadway Bank, in 2005 in order to run for state treasurer. Yet, he would later tell the IRS that he worked hundreds of hours for the bank in 2006. Why? Because doing so enabled him to snag a $2.7 million tax deduction. In the end, Broadway Bank would go out of business in early 2010, leaving taxpayers stuck with an estimated $390 million dollar tab and leaving voters to consider whether one member of the family that ran the bank into the ground deserves a seat in the United States Senate.
Only in Illinois. There is a delusional, surreal quality to politics in this state. Anybody who pays even a little attention knows that the party in power, the Democrats, are corrupt to the core, despite the fact that the better part of electorate routinely shrugs it off. If there’s nothing you can do about the power structure, isn’t it better that you should try to get your share of the spoils than try to fight the machine? Consider Blago, for example. I started writing about corruption and insider deals in the Blagojevich administration back in 2003, as a columnist for a small, suburban newspaper chain in the Chicago area. And who was I? I was nobody. I didn’t have any Deep Throats reporting to me. But, the depredations of the Blagojevich administration, and all of its supporters in the legislature, were an open secret. Politicians on both sides of the aisle talked about it in private all of the time, and they even laughed about it. It defies comprehension that Barack Obama, who served in the Illinois State Senate until 2004, didn’t know what was going on. If he truly didn’t, then he’s not intellectually qualified to hold any public office. Obama chose then, as he chooses now, to accept Chicago-style politics as the proper form of governance. It is why he will be campaigning for Giannoulias later this week. That’s really saying something.
Meanwhile, Giannoulias’s opponent, Congressman Mark Kirk, isn’t the kind of candidate to inspire conservatives. While he leans to the right, particularly on economic issues, Kirk is more of a centrist. Nonetheless, conservatives will support Kirk, if only because his opponent is so offensive to them. Yet Kirk is not without deficits himself. A veteran, Kirk claimed a unit citation as a personal award and the Democrats called him on it. At face value, this would seem to be a trivial matter of semantics, but the issue has gained traction. Distrusting all politicians, with good reason, voters are reluctant to get excited about anyone who offers anything less than a clean and clear break from Illinois’ disreputable past.
This race will be incredibly close until the end. Had Democrats in Illinois chosen their U.S. Senate candidate more wisely and less arrogantly, it wouldn’t be. Had Mark Kirk been more careful about describing his military service, it wouldn’t be. Yet, here we are. Six days to go and Barack Obama’s old seat hangs in the balance. Democrats know that if they lose it, they just might lose everything – including the psychological grip that the party seems to hold over an inured electorate. Not only will the cost of losing this asset be felt in the halls of power in Illinois, but it may very well ripple outward to other bastions of Chicagoland politics on the national stage. The administration is right to be worried.
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