Sure, anyone paying attention to Illinois is compelled to believe that Bruce Rauner has accomplished nothing in his first year in office except shred programs for children, the disabled and the poor.
Not only did Rauner fail to make tangible progress, but he didn’t even tread water properly. The normal operation of the state, such as passing an annual budget, failed to occur, sacrificed on the altar of the governor’s hunger for term limits, union enfeeblement and other unrelated pet causes. He’s like an office manager getting himself hired by promising to expand a business who then promptly fails to pay the electric bill, as a point of principle against the electric company monopoly, so they turn the lights off. Now we’re sitting in the dark, listening to him explain.
The temptation is to conclude Illinois would do better with no governor at all, than this one who can’t seem to manage basic human interactions. On Thursday, Rauner announced his support for Illinois Senate President John Cullerton’s pension-reform plan, only to have Cullerton immediately cringe away, shivering, from the governor’s embrace. “It’s not my plan,” Cullerton said, explaining that Rauner had twisted his idea.
But give credit where due: Rauner has accomplished something real, something that I would have thought impossible:
He makes Rod Blagojevich look good.
Don’t laugh. Think about it. What was Blagojevich’s main sin? Selfishness and greed. Two main sins. He saw the vacant Senate seat Barack Obama left to become president not as a chance to benefit the state of Illinois but as a “f—— golden” opportunity to make money.
Who did Blagojevich hurt? Himself, mostly. Yes, Blagojevich gave Illinois the specter of Sen. Roland Burris. But we could shake off that embarrassment with no lasting harm. Burris was senator for 22 months, also accomplished nothing but didn’t do anything terrible either. He led to Mark Kirk, whose personal difficulties made him a better person and senator, as personal difficulties will do. On the CMB Scale of Senatorial Awfulness, where the highest possible rating, 10.0 CMB, represents the Senate career of Carol Moseley-Braun, Burris pulls about a 6 and Kirk a 3 (while Dick Durbin, busy addressing important civic issues with zero personal drama, scores a -10 CMB, making him the Anti-Carol).
Rauner isn’t selfish or greedy. He’s already made his fortune, already grabbed enough loot to last a dozen lifetimes, until cringing Mother Nature pries his clawlike hands off her hem and he’s slid into his tomb and the heavy bronze door given a ringing slam while what few Illinoisans notice toss their caps into the air and give a tepid cheer (rich one-term dilettante politicians have a way of being instantly forgotten. Who read the above ranking of Illinois senators and said, “Hey, what about Peter Fitzgerald?” Nobody. That’s what rich guy do-nothingism gets you).
Rauner’s crime is worse: It’s zealotry. He’s a true believer. Like many Republicans, he views the world in stark, ideological, I-win-you-lose terms. There are the good people, a.k.a. rich businessmen like himself and his friends. And then all the untermenschen who get in the way of profits, the minorities and disabled and Chicago schoolchildren.
For all his talk about kneecapping the teachers union, Rauner doesn’t even bother to add a sham “and then graduation rates soar.” The irony is that Emanuel was already doing a good job of hobbling the unions. Rauner said that Emanuel “caved” to the teachers, but that caving resulted in 50 schools being summarily closed and 2,100 union members laid off less than a year after the contract was signed. That’s only “caving” if you’re Rauner, and what you really want to do is crucify the CPS teachers on lampposts along Pershing Road, the way Crassus did to rebellious Roman slaves on the Appian Way in 71 BC. The teachers union caved, grabbing the pay raise dangled before them and letting charter schools, which will spell their eventual doom, keep growing.
So if a friendly guard passes this column, folded into a tight football, into Rod Blagojevich’s itchy palm, he should smile with pride. He never hurt thousands of real Illinoisans, from struggling students who suddenly can’t pay for their college tuition to hard-working parents who have to worry about losing child care. He didn’t try to knock cups of milk out of the hands of preschoolers, nor join a wasp’s nest of Republican governors nationwide in barring desperate Syrian refugees whom the nation isn’t admitting anyway. He didn’t virtually push people out of their wheelchairs nor stiff honest creditors. Bruce Rauner has done all those things.