In a midterm election year, Labor Day usually kicks off Illinois' nonstop campaign season. Normally, candidates offer their platform and plans to deal with state policy issues. The party in power claims to have been prudent and efficient watchdogs on social and economic issues while the party not in power dwells on the inefficiencies and lack of management skills. Not this year, especially in the gubernatorial campaign - the office that trumps all the others, combined.
In my decades studying and writing about Illinois politics, I have never seen a greater disconnect between politics and policy. Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn resembles a punch-drunk boxer, swinging wildly in the political ring. His campaign lacks discipline and cohesion as he jabs away at his opponent without a political combination or pattern. It makes little difference if he scores a hit because the next day he will be back flailing away on a different issue, instead of following up on any potential scoring point.
His Republican opponent, state Sen. Bill Brady, has adopted Muhammad Ali's "rope-a-dope" technique. Brady stays along the ropes and lets Quinn exhaust himself and the voters with his roundhouse misses, as Brady tells one and all to be prepared for his counterattack. As of yet, Brady's plans for the state have not only lacked nouns, it has also been short on verbs. Brady's substantial lead in the polls has little to do with anything he has done in the past or what he says about the future; rather, it is due mainly to Quinn's inept campaign.
To be sure, 2010 is a bad year for Democrats, especially in Illinois. Besides a terrible economy, high unemployment and incredible deficits and debt, Democrats who have run Illinois for eight years now have the Blagojevich factor. Nevertheless, a sound and shrewd campaign strategy at the top of the ticket would 1) take advantage of past state voting trends that have turned the state politically from competitive to dark blue; 2) delineate how little is being said by their opponents on specific plans to help rescue the state and, 3) highlight - especially in the General Assembly - that it was the Democrats who led the charge to "de-Blago" Illinois government.
Perhaps the only Democratic statewide leader who has put out a reasoned defense of his party's performance in the past several years has been House Speaker Michael Madigan. Whether you like or dislike his leadership or his political personality or philosophy, he has at least presented some partisan analysis on our state's disastrous fiscal condition. In a recent newspaper article, he said "The Republican political strategy is simple. Do nothing to solve the problem . . . hope the problem festers through the general election and blame the Democrats."
An overstatement, to be sure, but at least it gave some political juice to thirsty Democrats who seem both lethargic and bewildered by Quinn's campaign style - or lack thereof.
Whether you are a Republican, Democrat, independent or Scott Lee Cohen fanatic, remember that the state's problems will not be solved by inaction or fuzzy rhetoric. All of us should be aware that our public employee pension system is substantially more underfunded than even that of the floundering state of California; that the state's comptroller in his July quarterly report wrote, "Illinois ended this (2010) fiscal year in the worst fiscal condition in its history"; and that the so-called jobless recovery being preached by some economists is nothing more than an oxymoron.
In sum, it may be time to paraphrase the old Simon and Garfunkel song "Mrs. Robinson": Where have you gone, Henry Horner? He was Illinois' governor during the Great Depression, who achieved reasoned governance through terribly difficult times. If he were around today we would turn our lonely eyes to him.
• Paul Green is director of the Institute for Politics at Roosevelt University in Chicago and Schaumburg.