I didn't go to Springfield to lobby this week, deciding to avoid the Lincoln Library mania. Instead, I got to see the show on C-Span last night (Barbara Bush's favorite network). And I felt some pride at seeing Illinois leaders creating a fantastic product for the world to enjoy. Wasn't it cool to see Emil Jones and Pat Quinn sharing a stage with George Bush and Denny Hastert? It was good to see that in a lot of ways, we are running D.C. more than most states -- and certainly more than any other blue state.
I thought George Ryan got the shaft. Sure, he might have allowed one of his hacks to try to get the job running the library, but Ryan financially delivered for the Library. He deserved more credit that he got at the ceremony, and I'm glad he showed up for it, even though he didn't get an invite to sit on the stage. People can be a bad guy on some issues and a good guy on some others. He was a bad guy when it came to personnel but he was a good guy at getting the library funded.
The unmentioned bad guy was Peter Fitzgerald. Every time someone made a joke about how long it took to get the library built, you could sense that Fitzgerald was silently blamed. He was the one who led a filibuster (a filibuster!) on the Senate floor against the project, warning against patronage and contract-kickbacks as a stain against the project. And you know what? Maybe he was right. So maybe he deserves some credit, not scorn, for helping to ensure that the library was built clean, and without kick-backs or patronage. Hey, maybe his delays ran out the clock on George Ryan's attempts to install his own hacks in the job, giving newly-elected Governor Blagojevich a chance in early 2003 to get Richard Norton Smith. So I thought Fitzgerald got a bit of the shaft as well. (Funniest line, I thought, was Blagojevich's when he rattled off Richard Norton Smith's accomplishments at running the Eisehower library, the Reagan library, writing a book on Nelson Rockefeller, maybe the Gerald Ford library as well, and then quipped: Rich, you don't do Democrats, do you?")
It's hard not to like George Bush. I laughed out loud - hard -- when he started his speech with "and it was a long time coming." His delivery is so open and approachable. A lot of my progressive friends tend to demonize Bush (and often demonize Republicans), but that doesn't jobe with the way that most people reach to Bush. He also gave a good speech, making the case that liberty is a birthright of every human, not just Americans. I'd prefer he say that democracy, not just liberty, is a universal human right. The only problem with liberty is that it is too easy to confuse that with low taxes -- as if a lack of government health insurance or public education equates to liberty. So I'm cautious about embracing 'liberty' as the first and highest calling of mankind. And that's why the Republican Party is such a full-throated supporter of liberty. Because it's easier to merge their rich-richer, poor-poorer strategy through an end to public investment with the noble calling of freedom from tyranny.
I also agree with Jim Dey of the News-Gazette here (hat tip to Rich Miller at CapFax) that Blagojevich gave a great speech. I don't know if Bradley Tusk wrote most of it, but whoever did should be proud of their work.
It was kind of neat to see the county-fair, summer-day looking crowd. The people who watched were clearly not 'official' people. They wore shorts and T-shirts. They looked like they were at Great America. And that's who the government is for: regular people. It was a nice change from most DC events where only dressed-up, VIP guests fill most of the aisles.
One added bonus: I got to see my Springfield apartment building in the background.
So, congratulations to everyone, including George Ryan and Peter Fitzgerald, who had a hand in making this museum happen. I'm looking forward to my first visit next week.
UPDATE: Phil Kadner of the Daily Southtown nailed an interview with Fitzgerald here in his column. Phil does a solid job explaining why we ought to credit Fitzgerald as well as everyone else on stage for the library.