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Behind the impasse

Tuesday, Oct 6, 2015

* My Crain’s Chicago Business column

What’s happening in Springfield might best be explained by World War I.

We have an invading army (Gov. Bruce Rauner) aggressively marching right over one enemy (former Gov. Pat Quinn) before slamming headlong into trench warfare (legislative Democrats led by House Speaker Michael Madigan).

Now, before anybody gets their kerchiefs in a bundle, I’m not at all saying that Rauner actually is Kaiser Wilhelm II nor implying that the Democrats are the French, although Quinn most definitely was Belgium. OK, that was a joke. I’m just attempting to use a broad historical analogy here. No offense intended to Belgians.

As with the Great War, we’ve seen monumental blunders on both sides. To start with, the Democrats completely misjudged the man who beat Quinn.

In 2002, Rauner and his wife hosted a fundraiser at their home for U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. After introducing Boxer, the future governor launched into a long tirade about

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- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Tie Your Shoes Kyle - Tuesday, Oct 6, 15 @ 8:52 am:

    I wonder who will play the Americans in this scenario? I view the coming 2016 election as the German Spring Offensive of 1918. If the Democrats (French) can hold out and not lose seats (ground), then the Germans will have to focus on their own affairs (reelection). If the front collapses (losing 6 plus seats in the House), then 2018 is going to be anybody’s guess

  2. - burbanite - Tuesday, Oct 6, 15 @ 8:57 am:

    I don’t remember the unions playing a role in the 08 crash. Just exactly how is it they are ruining the country?

  3. - Johnny Q. Suburban - Tuesday, Oct 6, 15 @ 8:59 am:

    Good point about the trench warfare of both sides hoping in vain to peel off a couple vulnerable opponents.

    Though I wonder what Rauner’s plan is long term. The advantage for the GOP being the super minority is that they really have no vulnerable legislators. Any seat that’s losable has been lost.

    But, if GOP can put of the money and new energy to use and pick up a couple more seats, those new legislators will be actually vulnerable and unable to vote the same way all the uber safe GOPpers can. I’ll be curious to see how that strategy changes once the GOP has legislators they actually have to worry about protecting.

  4. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Oct 6, 15 @ 9:04 am:


    Few pols really understood that the core of the Turnaround, and of Rauner’s economic vision overall, was anti-Union. That element was seen as negotiable by the Dems, but not by the Governor.

    Way too obscure for the public. Most think this is about the budget.

  5. - Robert the Bruce - Tuesday, Oct 6, 15 @ 9:06 am:

    ==poor people don’t fund Democratic campaigns and most don’t vote Republican anyway.==
    So cynical, so true, so sad. And they are the first casualties.

  6. - Facts are Stubborn Things - Tuesday, Oct 6, 15 @ 9:38 am:

    There really is no stalemate on the budget, because this Gov. won’t negotiate on the budget until he gets his union busting “turn around agenda”. The budget is the number one problem facing the state of Illinois and this gov. won’t deal with it until he gets what he wants. Perhaps this is more like a hostage crisis then a World War?

  7. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Oct 6, 15 @ 9:39 am:

    I’m starting to believe the major pressure point is getting vote totals to pass back to 60 and 30.

    71 and 36 seems to be too far of a bridge right now.

    So… January…

  8. - Quiet Sage - Tuesday, Oct 6, 15 @ 9:39 am:

    Rauner initially used Madigan’s political instincts–honed over decades of experience in the traditional Illinois political game–against him. Reasoning like the traditional politician he is (or was), Madigan figured that not making the temporary tax increase permanent during the lame duck session would force the Governor to deal and to take at least partial responsibility for the increase. Madigan didn’t at first grasp that Rauner was not motivated by such standard political concerns–that to Rauner the turnaround agenda took precedence over everything. This was equivalent to the way Germany took advantage of opposing countries’ faith in the decades-old system of tightly structured European alliances to launch its initially successful Western front offensive in the summer of 1914.

    Rauner was thus able to grab his initial foothold in enemy territory (the equivalent of the German seizure of northeast France in 1914) but the Democrats were soon able to hold the line, leading to the trench warfare we see today.

  9. - Facts are Stubborn Things - Tuesday, Oct 6, 15 @ 9:40 am:

    The Dems need to call on a budget summit and invite the republican leadership and the Gov. They need to announce that they have been ready for months and stand ready now to negotiate and compromise on a budget with more spending cuts then they want and revenue that no one wants to vote for but the state of Illinois needs to face up to that they need.

  10. - Wordslinger - Tuesday, Oct 6, 15 @ 9:49 am:

    That’s a pretty grand analogy. I’m still seeing hostage-taking as more apt.

    The governor feels entitled to certain things he can’t achieve through traditional and conventional means (public support, legislative majorities, in this case), so he takes hostages and threatens great harm to them unless his demands are met.

    In an attempt to demonstrate purity of motives and avoid a backlash of public opinion, some hostages are released (K-12, public employee salaries).

    In hostage situations we’re all familiar with from the past, the released are usually those who could be perceived as innocent - poor women, children, the old, sick or infirm.

    In this case, they are the primary hostages.

    The kicker is, rich guys, as represented by CDW, Capitol One, EBay, Amazon, ConAgra, etc., not only are released unharmed, they walk out the door with a fat package.

  11. - Glenn - Tuesday, Oct 6, 15 @ 9:51 am:

    Out of sequence here, but in the 1914 Christmas truce the front line trench dwellers on both sides celebrated their humanity in the kill zone between the trenches.

    It took some effort by leaders of both the French and German sides to make the cannon fodder on both sides fire up the serious hate necessary for the war to start in earnest.

    But that is the essential political skill, the ability to divide the people away from their common interests to fight each other while ignoring the that powerful few could never dominate the many without the many being at each other’s throats.
    No solution proposed here, but merely a contemplation of an alternative to where this is heading, in a 1918 state of mind instead of one more like 1914.

  12. - VanillaMan - Tuesday, Oct 6, 15 @ 9:53 am:

    As the governor, Rauner loses in this scenario.
    In WWI, the Germans ended up losing as well.

    No one wanted Rauner to do this, except Rauner.
    His “leadership” while governor, is hinged upon his own political foolishness.

    Now, instead of being governor, Rauner just sits in a foxhole and threatens anyone who tries to leave.

    He loses. He is governor.

  13. - Norseman - Tuesday, Oct 6, 15 @ 9:57 am:

    The reason the Kaiser feared revolution was the starvation and economic suffering the German people were enduring because of the extended war.

    Right now, the poor (Belgiums) are doing the suffering. As this war continues, the cost to the homeland will rise (like higher education) and suffering will raise questions as to the benefits of the war. Maybe then the frat boys can take off their Pickelhauben.

  14. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Oct 6, 15 @ 9:58 am:

    === It took some effort by leaders of both the French and German sides to make the cannon fodder on both sides fire up the serious hate necessary for the war to start in earnest.

    But that is the essential political skill, the ability to divide the people away from their common interests to fight each other while ignoring the that powerful few could never dominate the many without the many being at each other’s throats. ===

    Thanks Glenn … Best analysis and analogy I’ve seen!

  15. - Honeybear - Tuesday, Oct 6, 15 @ 10:06 am:

    Although I’m sure OW is going to rebuke me for saying it, I am sure there is going to be a lot more ground game activity from 2 groups in this next election, AFSCME and University employees. Both groups were complacent in the last election. I may be wrong but I don’t think they will be complacent in this next election. It won’t be all of them out there pounding the pavement but it’s going to be more than last time. That effects elections. Maybe not enough to be immediately frightened of but a factor.

  16. - logic not emotion - Tuesday, Oct 6, 15 @ 10:17 am:

    When people play chicken driving cars, the drivers are the ones who get hurt if no one stops. In Illinois, Rauner, Madigan and Cullerton are driving buses using a remote control where only the passengers (Illinois residents) get hurt in a crash. Since RMC don’t feel the pain, they have less concern about crashing the state.

  17. - Quiet Sage - Tuesday, Oct 6, 15 @ 10:20 am:

    Another point of analogy: The Governor’s forces, like the Central Powers in WWI, have interior lines. Aw were the Central Powers led by Germany, they are centralized and coordinated. Surrounding them are the Democrats’ exterior lines. The opposition to Rauner is a far-flung coalition of Democratic politicians, unions, social services agencies, and various other interest groups, often with divergent interests, that must coordinate across great political spaces, as Britain, France, and Russia were forced to do a hundred years ago. Although Madigan is their Grand Field Marshal, he doesn’t have sole authority, or anything like the unified command-and-control structure of the Rauner forces.

  18. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Oct 6, 15 @ 10:43 am:

    I am German and WWI was not anymore Germany’s fault then any other country.

    I see nothing wrong with Germany before WWI. Many European countries were colonialist including France.

  19. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Oct 6, 15 @ 10:48 am:

    ==I don’t remember the unions playing a role in the ‘08 crash………===

    You must absolutely be kidding! Unions are responsible for everything, and I mean everything that goes wrong in this state. Don’t believe it? Ask our governor! Snark to the hilt!

  20. - Emily Booth - Tuesday, Oct 6, 15 @ 10:50 am:

    We’re in for a long 4 years.

  21. - VanillaMan - Tuesday, Oct 6, 15 @ 10:51 am:

    I am German and WWI was not anymore Germany’s fault then any other country.

    There wouldn’t have been a war if they hadn’t invaded. Or - did I miss something about Belgium invading the Ruhr? Or did the Brits invade Hamburg? Did the French invade Koln?

    You need to understand why invasion is considered a big “no-no” if you want to pretend you didn’t start one.

  22. - Moist von Lipwig - Tuesday, Oct 6, 15 @ 10:58 am:

    ==No offense intended to the Belgians.==

    Governor Quinn has served the state honorably for years. There’s no need to take potshots.

  23. - Wordslinger - Tuesday, Oct 6, 15 @ 11:10 am:

    The causes of WWI were many, complex and a long-time brewing.

    But once the Romanovs and Hapsburgs both fully mobilized to grab Serbia, all those entangled in alliances with them had to do the same or risk being crushed in an initial onslaught.

    “The War that Ended Peace” by Maragaret Macmillan is the best and most accessible one-volume work I’ve come across.

    Pair that with her “Paris, 1919″ on the Versailles Conference, and the last 100 years, and today, become a whole lot clearer.

  24. - Wordslinger - Tuesday, Oct 6, 15 @ 11:12 am:

    Rauner hosting a funder at his home for Sen. Boxer, then going on an anti-union tirade, is so revealing.

    Of what, I’m not sure.

  25. - Federalist - Tuesday, Oct 6, 15 @ 11:13 am:

    One of RM’s best articles.

    Gets to the heart of the matter and besides I love military/political analogies.

  26. - Langhorne - Tuesday, Oct 6, 15 @ 11:14 am:

    Where are the pressure points that will make the average person stand up and shout “ENOUGH, PASS A D#~# BUDGET.”

    Constitutional officers cutting services? Social service network collapse? 911 centers shutting down? Vendors cutting off
    supplies and services? It will have to be something shamefully tragic, or utterly ridiculous. Meanwhile, the horizon keeps drifting farther out.

  27. - Sir Reel - Tuesday, Oct 6, 15 @ 11:21 am:

    Time to break out the mustard gas.

  28. - Really? - Tuesday, Oct 6, 15 @ 11:24 am:

    Why’s the stock photo of a WWII re-enactor?

  29. - Emily Booth - Tuesday, Oct 6, 15 @ 11:54 am:

    Another excellent book about WWI from a different perspective is Dark Invasion by Howard Blum about our first terrorist cell.

  30. - Grandson of Man - Tuesday, Oct 6, 15 @ 11:56 am:

    I read the article during the weekend. It reminded me of when I started paying closer attention to Illinois state politics–the part about Democrats passing bills that angered their public union allies.

    It was the Quinn era of “shared sacrifice/tough choices.” Madigan at a later time did say that public employee pensions are too “rich.” If I remember correctly, Quinn referred to public employee pensions as “Cadillac” plans.

    This is a big reason why I see Republicans as more extreme ideologically. Raising taxes is like a mortal sin to them. They won’t ever take the position that the wealthy need to pay a higher state income tax than everyone else, or that a major reason the state is broke is because taxpayers had it too good for a long time, with a long-term average income tax of under 3%.

  31. - Striketoo - Tuesday, Oct 6, 15 @ 12:28 pm:

    “Why’s the stock photo of a WWII re-enactor?”

    And a Polish soldier as well. Not that there is anything wrong with Polish soldiers.

  32. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Oct 6, 15 @ 12:35 pm:

    Take it up with the art department. I had nothing to do with it and thought it was odd as well.

  33. - vole - Tuesday, Oct 6, 15 @ 1:25 pm:

    That link is:
    Sorry about that.

  34. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Oct 6, 15 @ 2:23 pm:

    - Honeybear -,

    Respectfully, until the Labor Movement, social services and their advocates, and the Democrats show a cohesive understanding that collective bargaining, prevailing wage, and adequate funding are ONE not one a hostage for the other, until that happens, Rauner’s gamble is working.

    Every Raunerite elected, or that wins in the Democratic Primary, in the General Election is not helpful to those groups collectively.

    Besides the FOP, not seeing much of a narrative being “sung” and being sung in unison.

    With respect.

  35. - Honeybear - Tuesday, Oct 6, 15 @ 4:43 pm:

    OW You’re right about the FOP. I wish Anders would battle publically and aggressively like that.

  36. - Andy S. - Tuesday, Oct 6, 15 @ 5:35 pm:

    As did WW1, this stalemate will also end in 4 years when Rauner is not re-elected. Unless they do something really dumb, I see virtually no chance that the Democrats will lose their majorities in the state house or senate - this is Illinois, after all. If the Democrats refuse to give in, I don’t see how they can lose, or Rauner can win, in the long run, much like the central powers could not win a long war given their inability to feed their people with the allied blockade.

  37. - G'Kar - Tuesday, Oct 6, 15 @ 8:28 pm:

    I think there needs to be a Lusitania moment, perhaps in the social services, before the two sides start talking again. Or, perhaps von Rauner will just ok unrestricted warfare.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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