The day after the Jesse Jackson Jr. sentencing, I headed out for a little vacation time in Michigan. And arrived at a sweet restaurant in Stevensville about 90 minutes from Chicago.
As drinks and breadsticks arrived, so did this question from Ann, a favorite waitress and news junkie: “So, what did you think of the sentence?”
Ann’s question is everyone’s question.
Did Triple J and his fur-cape-clad-former-alderman-wife get off easy?
No, I said. They at least pleaded guilty and finally took responsibility for their shameless irresponsibility. Unlike, I suggested, Rod Blagojevich or George Ryan, former governors with long records of re-election. Ignoring darkening clouds over their heads of impending indictment and disgrace, voters kept giving them another batch of publicly funded paychecks.
It got me to thinking about all of us. Republicans and Democrats. Independents. Green Party and other third-party folks. People who clutch their political identity sometimes harder than they do the miserable reality of their lousy choices. Voters who refuse to rebel. Worse, citizens who refuse to vote.
Are we not the ones — a majority of us — who in 1998 chose Republican George Ryan over Democrat Glenn Poshard despite the fact that Poshard blew one of the first whistles on the licenses-for-bribes scandal?
Are we not the ones in 2006 — a majority of us — who refused to pick Republican Judy Baar Topinka over Democrat Rod Blagojevich as governor even after he had clearly proven he was not a reformer but worse, was under ever-deepening federal investigation?
The list goes on.
It includes the election of indicted and impeached Derrick Smith, returning him to the General Assembly after he’d been expelled. He had been charged by a federal grand jury with bribery right before the 2012 primary, this being Illinois, he prevailed. And then moved on to the general election where he faced a serious challenge by attorney Lance Tyson. Tyson tried to get voters to notice that he was the guy on the ballot who wasn’t indicted. But most didn’t care.
Which brings us back to Jesse Jackson Jr., who in the 2012 primary trounced former Congresswoman Debbie Halvorson even though he’d been dragged through the Blagojevich mud of a Senate seat for sale; an affair apparently subsidized in part by the same donors whom the feds implicated in the Blagojevich investigation; and after it became clear his own campaign fund was under profound FBI scrutiny.
Right after that, JJJ disappeared. Reporters noticed but not a lot of voters, apparently. That he initially lied about his mental-health issues and didn’t surface for the campaign didn’t matter a bit. He won the November election in a landslide.
Were all the opponents in all these races great candidates? No. Were they a way for voters to stand and say we’re sick of being taken for granted? Yes.
Shakespeare didn’t live in Illinois but apparently understood it: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves.”