Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Illinois GOP: Clown Party’s Gonna Clown

After some lobbying by Illinois’ highest-ranking Republicans, GOP bosses abruptly rescheduled a special Saturday meeting where they might have fired party Chairman Pat Brady, following an embarrassing flap over his public support of same-sex marriage.
An email sent to State Central Committee members at 10:17 p.m. Friday night said the event would be rescheduled “to give the Chairman every opportunity to respond to our request that he be present in person or by telephone at this meeting.”
Brady, who said he is out of town on a pre-planned family trip, had refused to attend or call into the meeting, which might have ended in his ouster. Reached via email Saturday morning, he declined to comment publicly on the meeting’s cancellation.
The abrupt move Friday night came after a “spirited,” “animated” conference call among party bosses, said State Central Committeeman Chris Kachiroubas, of Elmhurst, who had previously called for Brady’s resignation.
Let’s review. Back in January, Illinois GOP Chairman Pat Brady made the following unremarkable statement:
More and more Americans understand that if two people want to make a lifelong commitment to each other, government should not stand in their way. Giving gay and lesbian couples the freedom to get married honors the best conservative principles. It strengthens families and reinforces a key Republican value –that the law should treat all citizens equally.
Well, it would have been unremarkable if the Illinois GOP bore any resemblance to the party I remember. That would be the party of Everett McKinley Dirksen, Chuck Percy, Jim Thompson, Jim Edgar … the party of essentially sane people who may have differed with their Democratic colleagues over taxes and business regulation, but who nonetheless believed in public service and thought that the government out to treat everyone equally and protect the rights of traditionally disadvantaged groups.
I don’t want to wax sentimental here; they weren’t perfect. Illinois Republicans helped tank the Equal Rights Amendment in 1982 despite overwhelming support throughout the state. But they weren’t completely insane, either. Sen. Dirksen, for example, fought for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; and Jim Thompson, as governor, was way out ahead of the pack on the rights of the disabled. So their record was spotty, but not entirely awful.
Things changed, though, in recent years. If I had to trace the Illinois GOP’s descent into madness, I would go back to the 2004 senatorial race that featured a young man from Chicago named Barack Hussein Obama on the Democratic side, and, initially, a former investment-banker-turned-school-teacher named Jack Ryan on the Republican side. Ryan was a more-or-less standard issue Illinois Republican: fiscally conservative; socially moderate; not a lunatic. Unfortunately, Jack Ryan apparently liked to let his freak flag fly on occasion, and so when the Chicago Tribune released salacious details of Ryan’s divorce from actress Jeri Ryan, stodgier Illinois Republicans forced him out of the race.
Ryan’s political demise led to a civil war within the Illinois GOP. While I don’t know this for a fact, I’ve long suspected that then-GOP Chair Judy Baar Topinka, a fairly moderate Republican who’s still Illinois’ Comptroller, tried to teach the right-wing fringe of her party a lesson that year, but who knows exactly what happened behind closed doors. What happened publicly was this: After Ryan dropped out of the race, Illinois Republicans chose – apparently unironically – Marylander Alan Keyes to replace him. Yes, that Alan Keyes, the loopiest, right-wing-iest Republican they could find. To replace the moderate candidate Illinois’ Republican voters chose in the primary.
The leadership of the Illinois GOP had to go all the way to Maryland to find someone crazy enough to run against Barack Obama.
As I say, who knows why they really chose Keyes (at one point they courted former Bears head coach Mike Ditka, who politely declined), but it sure seems like they were saying to their right wing fringe: You want crazy?! We’ll give you crazy! We’ll give you so much crazy you’ll be buried in November, and you’ll never, ever ask for crazy, ever again.
Which might not have been an altogether bad strategy, since they were going to lose the election to Barack Obama anyway.
Unfortunately, the right-wing fringe of Illinois’ Republican Party did not get the message. Even after Keyes was trounced in the general election – Obama got about 70% of the vote – the wingers felt emboldened by the party’s selection of Keyes. So they keep running candidates who can’t possibly get elected to statewide office, Illinois being a perennially moderate state. Like dairy magnate (yes, that’s right: dairy magnate) and anti-immigration nut Jim Oberweis, who thinks Illinois voters actually care about his pet issue (hint: we don’t); or Bill Brady, who lost our last gubernatorial race to Pat Quinn, the Democrat who succeeded Rod Blagojevich after Blagojevich was impeached and thrown out of office.
You just can’t chasten crazy, people.
So poor Pat Brady. He understands that the people of Illinois, like Americans in general, have come to accept marriage equality, because that’s what people do: They wise up over time. But he’s stuck in the middle of a nine-year old civil war in his own party, a war between those who are just wrong more often than they’re right – but are still right on occasion – and those who are wrong on everything all the time. So have fun with that, Pat. The rest of us are moving forward, with or without you.
[Cross posted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles]

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