Blogo drives many people in Illinois nuts in very much the same way that Shrub drives many people nationally nuts. Of course, their constituencies are different ideologically and many of the Blogo haters are conservatives and many of the Shrub haters are liberals. Given Shrub’s approval rating, he’s down to his hard core. If my conservative friends want to understand my disdain for the President, they need only contemplate their disdain for Blogo (something I share). Give Blogo some time and he’ll be down to his hard core, or in the pen, like three other Illinois governors since World War II (George Ryan, Dan Walker, Otto Kerner, all for being on the take). There are important differences between the two, of course. Obviously Shrub’s very religious and, so far as I can tell, that doesn’t factor much into Blogo’s calculations. Blogo goes in for a lot more blow-wave than Shrub. Clearly there are big policy differences between the two men, but let’s leave those aside entirely since I think a good chunk of what bugs people about both men involves background, style and personality, and, ultimately how those affect the way both men do business. Let’s go down the parallels of these two rogues:

  • Undergraduate degrees from elite universities (Northwestern for Blogo, Yale for Shrub) where they were more interested in beer bongs than studies.
  • No real sign of intellectual curiosity or ability. Of course no one who gets to high office is downright stupid, but Blogo had an ACT of 19 and Shrub is notoriously incurious in ways too numerous to mention. Sharpness of intellect they do not possess.
  • Holders of professional degrees (JD for Blogo, MBA for Shrub). Not a bad thing, but notable.
  • Careers largely built by fathers or father figures (father-in-law for Blogo, father for Shrub), from whom both had certain separation difficulties. Think the famous “higher father” line from Shrub, or Blogo’s recent falling out with his father-in-law. (At least their fathers weren’t like this.)
  • Pseudo “Ordinary Joes”. Blogo actually comes from a working class background (his father was a factory worker from Serbia, who also happened to be a Chetnik—aka early Serb ultra-nationalist a la Slobodan Milosevic), but he’s obviously shed that background a long time ago with his “fly back to Chicago every weekend” ways. Shrub merely pretends to be a down-home Texas businessman, but he never met a business given to him by his old man’s friends he couldn’t run into the ground. He too likes to spend a lot of time on vacation. Neither are self-made men, though they’d certainly like you to believe that.
  • A populist governance style built on appealing to the masses in a manner reminiscent of Juan Peron or Huey Long. Both think of themselves as an elected king, which entails a dogmatic, inflexible “my way or the highway” style of leadership long on publicity stunts, but is awfully short on results and which inevitably poisons the well with the legislative branch of government.
  • Decidedly convoluted reasoning about government finance.
  • A shared penchant for cronyism and personal loyalty above all, the consequences be damned.
  • Both have or had large legislative majorities but never managed to capitalize on it, frequently squabbling with the legislature when they couldn’t get it their way, e.g., proposing tax policies hearkening back to the Great Depression that fortunately seem to going nowhere, or collaborating with them on injecting the Federal government into a specific personal tragedy ordinarily—and appropriately—handled by state courts when the base got riled up.

Both men are very much TV-era appeal to the base, policy=politics politicians. For many of us the dialog of politics in the TV era is about as appealing as, well, those irritating Vonage ads with that annoying song from Kill Bill, Vol. 1 or the stuff you find in the the fridge growing on forgotten leftovers from March that might have become a new civilization if given enough time. Unfortunately pushing the mute button doesn’t change the fact that the stuff they do has real impact on our lives. It will be a good day when both move on, though, sadly I’m confident someone equally execrable will replace them. Hopefully they’ll at least have the decency of being differently execrable, but I’m not holding my breath.

You may be tempted to believe given my background that I believe political executives should be “intellectual.” In other words, am I guilty of looking in the mirror for my notion of a good candidate? The short answer is no. Woodrow Wilson was a professor and had many of the flaws of an intellectual in a position of executive responsibility, particularly in the way he ran US participation in World War I in a totally partisan manner (sound familiar?) and, when his political capital ran out, botched the peace treaties. Ancient history is not necessary: Paul Wolfowitz at the World Bank shows just how bad academics can be as executives. So no, I’m not very sanguine on how well I think college professors would do as chief executives because I think the skills and personality traits necessary for success are rather different. But I do ask that the person have some intellect and some humility, self-understanding, and an ability to make real compromises, which are necessary quantities in the decidedly non-majoritarian system of government and diverse country we have. I just don’t see that from either RRB or GWB, both of whom seem to be long on moralism fused to personal ambition and short on an actual engagement with issues in a deep and critical way. GWB seems to believe his moralism while I’m fairly sure it’s feigned for RRB, but I’m not sure that’s any better. Moralism sells well, though, especially on a fundamentally emotive medium like TV and so the likes of Blogo and Shrub rise to the top while less interesting (to the almighty base, that is), but effective leaders like former Illinois governor Jim Edgar or current Arizona governor Janet Napolitano aren’t candidates.

I could go on, but the attitude I’m looking for is best summed up by a few choice quotes from a far better political writer than I’ll ever be, Abraham Lincoln:

  • (Responding to a query to lead a prayer for God to be on the side of the Union) “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side.”
  • “If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six hours sharpening my ax.”
  • “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
  • “The time comes upon every public man when it is best for him to keep his lips closed.”

Whether these qualities can exist in the age of the 24 hour news cycle—with its demand for moral certitude, instant results, emotional authenticity, and a media more interested in answers to constant, baited questions than anything that matters to ordinary folks—I do not know.

Thanks to Angry Political Optimist for pushing me to remove the redundant and pointless stuff.

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