If you believe that words and the tone of political rhetoric matter, then you might have a few words for how politics played out last week, both at the state and presidential level.
Disappointing. Discouraging. Frustrating. Just plain sad.
At the state level, while legislators engaged in “Groundhog Day” levels of inaction, their leaders and Gov. Bruce Rauner instead ratcheted up the rhetoric yet again.
Just 2 1/2 weeks ago, Rauner stood before the General Assembly and declared, “I stand before you today with respect for our co-equal branches of government ... and a deeply-rooted desire to work with each and every one of you to right our ship of state.”
By last Monday, his frustration had boiled into a press conference that left many scratching their heads about his strategy for doing that.
Rauner and Speaker Mike Madigan have left no doubt they’re at war, and the governor took to the press to complain that the speaker is delaying a deal to help higher education so that he can use it as a campaign issue. But this time, the governor also doubled down on Senate President John Cullerton, despite apparent previous efforts by the two to compromise.
“You know what President Cullerton said to me in private? He said, ‘Bruce, I’ve lived in Mike’s shadow for 37 years. I’m not gonna step out now,’ “ Rauner told reporters. “Can you believe that? Can you believe that? You wonder why Illinois is in such deep yogurt, ladies and gentlemen.”
Even in the business world from which Rauner comes, it’s hard to fathom the idea that belittling your rival by revealing an unflattering comment — allegedly said in what was, by the governor’s own description, a private meeting — is smart negotiating strategy. Trust? If Cullerton had a shred of it for the governor before, it’s blown out of the water now.
Not that Madigan’s team, who sees the governor as bearing sole responsibility for the higher education debacle, has been a model of restraint and reason, either. Among the choice reaction quotes from Madigan spokesman Steve Brown were observations that the governor is “a little wobbly” and “a little more irrational than usual.”
Meanwhile, lawmakers went through another round of passing a bill that Rauner would veto, having the governor veto it and then unsuccessfully trying for an override that Madigan knew he didn’t have the votes for, in order to stake out political positions. And now, the House has adjourned until April.
Perhaps the most optimistic thing that could be said about Illinois’ political rhetoric at this point is that it’s still more genteel than the war of words between Donald Trump, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.
But none of this back and forth inspires any confidence that the state’s top leaders are sincere when they talk about finding compromise, or bemoan the collateral wreckage their actions are creating. That’s a disturbing thought.
The voices that deserve to be heard are those of the students wondering if they’ll have to drop out of college, the workers worried about whether they’ll be laid off because of the state’s crisis, the social service providers who care for the elderly and vulnerable, and the business owners worried about the economy and added uncertainty created by the impasse.
Hopefully, those people will talk loudly and clearly to their local representatives, and those rank-and-file members will come back to Springfield with the one message that needs to be delivered to those at the top: