At the end of the movie “Goodfellas,” mobster-turned-informant Henry Hill laments that he’s out of the business.
“Today everything is different. There’s no action. Have to wait around like everyone else. Can’t even get decent food. Right after I got here, I ordered some spaghetti with marinara sauce and I got egg noodles and ketchup. I’m an average nobody. Get to live the rest of my life like a schnook.”
I’ve often said that if you want to understand politics, then you have to watch that movie. The insights it offers about Outfit members applies loosely to politicians, who operate under a surprisingly similar set of rules based on the old Roman legions.
And right now, Gov. Pat Quinn is living the high life, kinda like Henry Hill once did. No, Quinn isn’t paying off cops and judges, or highjacking trucks. But governors have a lot of power and do live well.
Quinn has a staff who attend to most of his needs, a mansion available at his disposal, a car with a driver and security, a fleet of airplanes and invitations to swank parties and major events like the Kentucky Derby. Rich and powerful people demur when he walks into a room. He’s recognized just about everywhere he goes.
And if loses his next election, that all ends. He’ll be just another schnook in a world full of schnooks.
Passing a pension reform bill won’t get Quinn re-elected. In fact, it will likely hurt him badly with state workers, teachers and other public employees.
But the failure to pass a pension reform bill and deal more completely with the state’s wrenching budget problems does enormous harm to Quinn in the public’s mind every time he swings and misses.
And, man, does he ever swing and miss a lot. If he was a baseball player, he’d have been sent back down to the minors a long time ago.
Yes, this is a very difficult problem that, as Quinn rightly notes, has been building for 70 years. No governor has been able to solve it, although Jim Edgar did give it a go.
But an important part of politics is projecting an image of strength and leadership, and Quinn has done neither, which has hurt him badly.
Quinn told reporters last year that he was “put on Earth” to solve the pension crisis. He demanded a solution by the end of the spring session. The deadline came and went. Then he called a special session to deal with pensions in August, but the General Assembly ignored him and did nothing. Then came the November veto session, which passed without any activity.
Gov. Quinn set a “final, final” deadline this past Tuesday, the last full day of the 97th General Assembly. It turned out to be a total disaster. Nothing happened, no votes were taken and an 11th-hour effort by Quinn to hand the problem over to an unelected commission with legislative and executive powers failed miserably.
“Desperate and weak,” was how Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown described Quinn’s commission move. I couldn’t agree more.
Pat Quinn has had four years to learn how to be a real governor. He just hasn’t done it. Quinn is a well-intentioned, decent man, but he hasn’t shown that he’s up to this job.
The next election isn’t until 2014. So unless he somehow manages to change, we’re stuck on a rudderless boat for two more years.
Maybe then, when Quinn is back to eating egg noodles and ketchup, things will start to get better around here. One can only hope.