Just got the word from Bruce DuMont that I'll be on Beyond the Beltway (radio only) this Sunday (in Chicago on WLS 890 am from 6 pm to 8 pm). Tune in if you're free.
Thomas Roeser's column on Alan Keyes in the Sun-Times here helps explain to me why conservatives are happy to pick him. He is their Barry Goldwater. He is the one who can purge the state party of their corrupt machine ties and give conservatives (or fundamentalists) a happy home.
Roeser's a good writer, so here is a choice paragraph:
Then why am I an optimist? Because before victory comes, a party must change. Just as Barry Goldwater by losing changed the Republican Party from an eastern seaboard entity to a Southern party that got elected adhering to traditional values, Keyes can transform the moribund Republicrat party from boardrooms and country clubs into a vibrant entity: composed on one level of working class and entrepreneurs, ethnics and blue-collar suburbs, and churches -- tons of them: Catholic, Evangelical.
First, that's a really insightful comment on the change from Eisenhower Republicans to Reagan Republicans (and how Northern Republicans like the Chicago Tribune and, for that matter, pre-1980 John Anderson) have been pushed out of the party over the last few decades.
Second, transformations don't happen all that often, and it's interesting to see such wishful thinking infect a major party. Raising the living standards of regular people is the core definition of the Democratic Party. Republicans have to fight against that by framing government as the problem. That's easier to do with the federal government. The state government (which basically funds schools, health care, transportation and those too infirm or old to care for themselves and has a low tax burden) is a much more difficult target for Republicans to paint as the obstacle toward a higher living standard. Most people get that more money for education raises living standards. The state tax burden is rather light (especially the state income tax, which at 3% is too low). There isn't much of a bogeyman for Republicans to rally swing voters around, so I don't really see where a state GOP party purged of 'moderates' can't build a majority.
The only weak spot for Democrats is corruption. Governor Blagojevich seems to sense that weak spot, so he constantly calls himself a reformer to disassociate himself from the widespread perception of government tolerance for low-level corruption. That, I suspect, is the 'traditional value' that Roeser and John Kass and conservatives would like Republicans to crusade on, and they can't do it when Bob Kjellander and other deal-makers perceived to be as corrupt as anyone else are running the state GOP.
I think the lesson for Illinois Democrats is that it is in their interest to root out any tolerance of corruption. It's an intriguing puzzle why Mayor Daley hasn't led that charge. To their credit (though in real fits and starts), the Illinois Ethics Act of 2003 has cleaned up a lot of the state problems. And the fact that there isn't any money in the state budget means that there hasn't been much Democratic patronage for the Governor to control, which is also good.
It will be harder as the incumbent party in 2006 for Democrats to hold onto the mantle of the anti-corruption party -- and eliminate their biggest potential source of weakness from a 'clean sweep' GOP message -- if they aren't perceived to be cleaning up state government. There ought to be another push in 2005 for ethical government in Springfield, and some sacred cows (how do you spell O'Hare) really ought to get gored. That's in every Democrats' interest, including Mayor Daley's.