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posted: 3/23/2014 5:00 AM

Editorial: Campaign '14 and the politics of distraction

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

This editorial is not at its heart about the minimum wage, but the issue is a convenient spot to begin today's reflections on Campaign '14 and so we start there.

First, let us say, we're sympathetic to a thoughtful discussion of the minimum wage. Proponents of an increase make a good point that it's hard to pay the bills if you're paying them on that wage. So our initial thought is that if there are reasonable ways to increase it that do not kill jobs or spur inflation, well then, by all means.

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But as we head into the heat of this year's election campaigns, let's all be discerning voters.

Pat Quinn did not roll out of bed one morning and think, "You know, the people on minimum wage are woefully underpaid. We owe it to them to raise it." That's not how Barack Obama came up with the idea either.

Their proposals came to them out of political strategy sessions. Quinn most likely was looking for ways to mitigate his problems with the government unions (and now further embraces it as a great counterpoint to use when running against a gazillionaire). Obama most likely is trying to get the focus of this year's elections off the problems with the launch of the health care program.

Doesn't mean their minimum wage proposals are bad and it doesn't mean that Quinn and Obama aren't genuine in their support of them. But it does mean the ideas -- and the "class warfare" characterization they're designed to inflame -- are being pushed now as political manipulations, and it does all of us as voters some good to understand that.

The fundamental truth of that, of course, is disappointing. We wish the state and the nation's politics could be bigger than that.

But in pointing this out, we don't mean it as an indictment specifically of Democrats. Their politics is no more cynical than the politics of Republicans. Both sides look for issues they can manipulate to their advantage.

We do, however, raise the issue of discernment as more than a classroom lecture on politics and naiveté.

The near-bankrupcy of state government in Illinois is too big a crisis for us as voters to allow ourselves to get sidetracked this year by charlatan politics that suggest reform is anti-worker. And the loss of jobs and businesses in Illinois is too real to allow the focus to shift to sleight of hand that would pretend to tax only the rich when it would in reality penalize us all -- or almost all of us.

What, after all, is the Michael Madigan millionaire surcharge idea but an assault on small business and a cynical attempt to exploit the divide between haves and have nots? Ultimately, class warfare for the most part is just shadow politics, a cynical attempt to rally the masses no matter the cost. Get each side to blame the other for our problems rather than examining the government failure that is at the heart of it.

Much is at stake in Illinois in this election.

As for Quinn and Bruce Rauner, each needs to show reasonableness and creative thought.

The challenge for Quinn is to make the case that he's not a panderer out to appease whatever interest group will bring him votes. The challenge for Rauner is to make the case that he's not an extremist out to victimize the working class.

Each needs to show they are proponents of reasonableness and inclusion.

As for us the voters, we need to be discerning. We need to set some of the agenda ourselves.

Let's not be misguided so much by passion as we are ruled by thoughtfulness and reason -- always focused on the question of how we solve the serious problems that are before us today.

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