Maybe I'm just a big depressed by getting bonged from the DNC convention, but I can't stop thinking about some of the lonelier parts of politics.
When I was an undergrad at Illinois (Urbana), Dick Durbin came to campus to speak. He was running for the Senate seat (then a Congressman from south of Springfield) in the 96 primary against Pat Quinn. He spoke to a small room of strangers in the Illini Union (and took a question from me about cumulative voting, which he said he liked, fyi), and then went to a small fundraiser at someone's Urbana home. The cost was $53 (or something like that) because he was there on his birthday. What a downer -- to spend your birthday in the company of strangers.
I was at the State of Illinois building the day they renamed it the Thompson Center in honor of former Governor Jim Thompson. There was a reception and a speech. And Governor Thompson talked about the magnifcent building (which is a stunning building -- my favorite interior in Chicago. Check it out here) and the vision of open, transparent government reflected in the glassy, transparent, door-less building. And then he said to the current governor I confess I only vividly recall the word, which chilled me at the time): "there is great responsibility. . .and loneliness. . .at the top."
Tonight I went to the Independent Voters of Illinois - Independent Precinct Organization's 60th anniversary dinner. At the end, five men were to reminisce about their times with the organization. Two of them were ancient (Dan Canter and Marshall Holleb). Abner Mikva, Dick Simpson and Tim Black each said a few words. And Tim Black confessed that he wished he had run for state senate from the south side with a multi-racial coalition backing him including IVI, instead of just running with black support, as he thinks he would have won and also helped Abner Mikva win his first run for Congress, delaying his election to D.C. an additional two years.
I'm not sure why that made me lonely but it did. Maybe because I brought some Obama T-shirts in some luggage and didn't really try to get them to people (and just brought them back home afterwards). Maybe because State Representative Robin Kelly who won an award for her work to try to pass a grace period of an additional 14 days for citizens to register to vote (instead of the current 28 day deadline) didn't come as she was stuck in Springfield in a special session. Maybe because the bill didn't get passed after all, and I thought it would be law now. And all that work hasn't really amounted to anything. (I know, maybe it will pass in 2005. But still.)
The mundane and the depressing can overwhelm the moments of uplifting nobility. John Kass had a column a few days ago in the Tribune that has sunk me into funk.
He wrote paragraphs like these:
In politics, what is brutalized is what is inside your heart. Once that's gone, once there is hardly anything left inside of you to hurt, then you're finally one of them. You've made the team. Congratulations.
Leadership in Illinois politics isn't about excellence. It is a tribal art practiced by men with soft hands. They lead by consensus, and consensus is measured by who gets what and how much.
What kind of a profession is that? Your lose your soul by representating people in a legislature? And what does that second paragraph even mean? I marvel at his poetry, but what does it mean? Consensus-driven politics is a drive to avoid disagreements. That is the culture in the Illinois General Assembly. Why does John Kass make that seem dirty?
I'm not foregoing a higher salary and hanging around decision-makers with my nagging for better politics in order to lose my soul. (One really good progressive lobbyist was called a 'stalker' by a state senator at the end of the regular session. But I think she got her bill through). I'm searching for something more noble. I'm searching for justice. And I think I'm more likely to find it in the House of Representatives than from a black-robed official with a gavel called a judge.