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Rauner and “stealth democracy”

Monday, Mar 21, 2016

* From Brian Mackey’s “Rauner, Trump And The Lure Of The CEO Politician”

Much has been made of Trump’s appeal among voters who tend toward authoritarianism. But that’s not Rauner. Instead, political science offers a better explanation of the appeal of the governor’s pitch: stealth democracy. The idea was outlined by John Hibbing and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse in their 2002 book Stealth Democracy: Americans’ Beliefs about How Government Should Work. It goes like this: people are angry, but not because they don’t like the policy outcomes of our political system. Rather, they don’t like the process. The three main components of the idea have to do with misunderstanding how much people agree on a public agenda, a disdain for self-interested policymakers and intense dislike of the arguments and mess inherent in democratic governance. Seen through the framework of stealth democracy, Rauner is a most typical American.

“People tend to see their own attitudes as typical, so they overestimate the degree to which others share their opinions,” Hibbing and Theiss-Morse write. Last week, Rauner said Illinoisans needed to make their voices heard in the Capitol: “We need democracy to get restored in Illinois, and we need the people to put pressure on members of Speaker Madigan’s caucus to do the right thing.” Of course, thousands of people are doing just that. But among the Democratic supermajorities in the House and Senate, they’re being pressured to do a “right thing” that is not what Rauner has in mind. Where Democrats would balance the budget with a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts, Rauner says he would balance the budget with a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts only after passing business-friendly legislation and weakening collective bargaining.

When the governor makes this case, which he’s done again and again, Rauner is playing on the Stealth Democracy idea that most voters don’t understand why politicians are always fighting. Hibbing and Theiss-Morse write that because most people are not interested in getting informed on more than a few issues — if that — they can’t see what all the fuss is about: “When it is apparent that the political arena is filled with intense policy disagreement, people conclude that the reason must be illegitimate — namely, the influence of special interests.”

There are few phrases more central to the Rauner lexicon than “special interests.” He told Chicago in 2013: “The government unions, the trial lawyers, the folks who make their money from government, they bought, they own the Democratic Party. Unfortunately, they control Springfield. There is nothing — we should be really clear — there is nothing weak, vulnerable, discriminated against about those special interest groups, and they have bought the Democratic party in Springfield. Unfortunately they have bought a number of the Republicans, too. And when you look at what’s happened as a result — our taxes are high and rising, unemployment is rising, and we’re shredding our safety net.”

Rauner makes no allowance for the notion that Democrats — and some Republicans — might have sincere reasons for supporting government unions and trial lawyers. Perhaps they question the wisdom of emulating the relentless layoffs in the private sector or think trial lawyers occasionally do good. The world is more complicated than the governor’s rhetoric allows. But voters tend to think there are simple solutions to what they don’t see as complex problems, and so they eat it up.

“People’s tendency to see the policy world in such a detached, generic and simplistic form explains why Ross Perot’s claim during his presidential campaigns in 1992 and 1996 that he would ‘just fix it’ resonated so deeply with the people,” Hibbing and Theiss-Morse explain. Remember Rauner’s campaign slogan? “Shake up Springfield. Bring back Illinois.” And Trump’s? “Make America great again.” They could slogan-swap without missing a beat. Stealth Democracy tells us that that since most Americans think everyone else agrees with them on what’s best for the nation, and that achieving those results ought to be as simple as putting a bill up and voting for it, we should not be surprised when people see no need for debate and compromise.


- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Formerly Known as Frenchie - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 11:33 am:

    This is fascinating. I’m going to find that book.

    OTOH, I’d love to get a hold of those e-mails that Rauner used to send to his mailing list — the same mailing list (apparently) that Emanuel begged to be removed from.

    I suspect those emails — coupled with this idea of ’stealth democracy’ — is pretty much Rauner as he was, is, and will be in a nutshell.

  2. - Annonin' - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 11:41 am:

    Is this at all like Loopin’
    We get a headache when folks try to find some fancy excuse for how the BigBrains make it look they are just executin’ the plan

  3. - Four - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 11:43 am:

    Where is the reference to Madigan’s incessant use of “middle class families” when his tenure has coincided with the fall of Illinois’ middle class?

  4. - Chicago 20 - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 11:44 am:

    Stealth budget, stealth meetings, stealth sources, stealth studies, stealth Governor.

    Ah transparency is achieved.

  5. - illinois manufacturer - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 11:44 am:

    I think people are unhappy with outcomes too. They are different in blame. Trump blames bad trade deals and Rauner unions.I don’t think anything Rauner does or doesn’t do will make much difference. It ends she Madigan gets his supermajority.The GOP is going to be in such chaos I don’t see how any statewide one wins and how all close districts don’t swing D.

  6. - Dr X - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 11:46 am:

    When propaganda becomes your sole manner of message this is what you get.

    Hibbin’ nails it - why can’t they just do it? Why can’t they see the common sense? Bafflin’ it is.

  7. - FAIRNESS AND FAIRNESS ONLY - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 11:47 am:

    This article hits many great points, especially that everyone assumes that “other smart people agree with me”. While I’ve heard many people state they can’t understand the Trump popularity, those same people can’t understand that the “other side” hates Hillary Clinton just as much. The argument consists of “I’m right, therefore you must be wrong” and then gets nasty from there.

    The inability to see the grays and look for the complexities is mind boggling. While many people want their news in short sound bites, they don’t understand that the real news is in the details.

  8. - walker - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 11:55 am:

    A lot of good points. But they’ve been true of American politics since George Washington.

    Deal with it.

  9. - Jack Stephens - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 11:59 am:


    Bruce said he doesn’t have email.

  10. - Vole - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 12:04 pm:

    “we should not be surprised when people see no need for debate and compromise.”

    Actually this has been, at least for me, one of the biggest surprises — that Rauner has not offered up a detailed set of cohesive arguments for debate, let alone compromise. Like the benefits of his proposals were self evident. That they came from him was proof enough.

  11. - Chicago_Downstater - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 12:16 pm:

    I agree with illinois manufacturer’s observation that “people are unhappy with outcomes too.” But I don’t think that completely invalidates the theory. I think if you–as a member of the electorate–are unhappy with the outcomes and you see the current political process as flawed, then it would make sense that you would target the process as the root of your unhappiness.

    That’s basically Rauner’s point, right? That as long as the process stays broken good policy outcomes will be flukes, not the rule of thumb. So if you want better outcomes you have to have a better process. I think that’s what resonates with people.

    I think that’s why Rauner signals that he is willing to compromise on most policies, but is unable to back down on his “political reforms.” The second he compromises on his process fixes is the second he loses legitimacy. It would make more sense to let everything burn before he makes serious compromises on his Turnaround Agenda.

    I can understand it, but it doesn’t make it less frustrating for me to watch. And I don’t think Rauner’s the only one locked up by legitimacy concerns.

  12. - Ghost - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 12:17 pm:

    gives too much credit to Rauner. I think Quinn lost the election more the. Rauner won it. one of the big areas Quinn lost was the minorty grps in the city, where Rauner pulled more thne 20%. Rauner also pulled in a number of union republicans who yearned for the days of thompson and edgar…. Today Rauner wouldnt get support from wither location. In part because he seems to think he can gain support by messageing and press telease, but without action. IMHO the gop members are at greater risk then ever in the upcmin elevtion, and they appear to be ready to follow rauner over the cliff edge. Tha much economic harm is not causing a turn on the dems. and the towns w universities have a number of very endangered repubs. People are not cardboard cutouts, and this article and Rauners approach seem to think they are. But the people evicted dunkin and kept McMann, so they appear to be more savvy they are described.

  13. - RNUG - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 12:20 pm:

    == “we should not be surprised when people see no need for debate and compromise.” ==

    When you believe with the religious fervor of a Crusader, there is no other path and you have no need for compromise. That is where we are right now, and it won’t change until (a) there is a veto proof majority in both houses or (b) we get a different Governor.

  14. - Abe the Babe - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 12:22 pm:

    Great analysis. But the real problem is confined to the second floor of the capitol. Because until you convince the Baron and his frat-like staff that democrats aren’t all tammany hall hucksters, you wont be able to get a deal.

    Things Raunerites should realize: there are good policy reasons for rejecting most of the TA, much of the democratic majority sincerely hold these policy beliefs no matter how their bread is buttered, AND you need 60 and 30. Not 1 and 1.

    I still cant believe this stuff needs explaining.

  15. - Magic carpet ride - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 12:23 pm:

    Compromise is a bad word. Madigan is standing there with his hand on his hip watching Rauner act like a child. Madigan is not going to give up everything to bruce. There has to be some “whats in it for Mike Madigan” too. Compromise is now a bad word.p

  16. - Chicago 20 - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 12:25 pm:

    - Chicago_Downstater
    ” It would make more sense to let everything burn before he makes serious compromises on his Turnaround Agenda.”

    Not one aspect of Rauner’s turn around agenda makes any fiscal sense. Study after study concluded that the outcomes of passing Rauner’s agenda items will be a detriment to the State, its businesses and its citizens.

    Any “compromise” on Rauner’s agenda will only cause another set of problems and less tax revenue for the State.

  17. - Niblets - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 12:30 pm:

    Of course “other smart people agree with me.” Well I am right so they should. One might argue that govenor 1.4% is the same type of slogan. It only needs to be made much more popular. It may be a little less simple so that could be an obstacle . Perhaps Rich could put a few million dollars behind this slogan in order to make it a universal meme.

  18. - x ace - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 12:33 pm:

    Main Reason Rauner was elected is because Republicans were Asleep at the Switch ,and Infighting, at Primary Time. Now it’s Payback for Neglect.

  19. - Sir Reel - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 12:37 pm:

    Great insights.

    When I worked in government, I was frustrated by what I called “true believers.” They had the same answer to every question.

  20. - @MisterJayEm - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 12:37 pm:

    Interesting, but if Bruce Rauner truly believed that most people agreed with him on government unions and trial lawyers, he would have made those issues the centerpiece of his general election campaign.

    And he didn’t.

    – MrJM

  21. - Formerly Known as Frenchie - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 12:37 pm:

    @Jack Stephens

    No, no email now — but a while ago apparently he used to send out fairly long e-mail screeds to a series of “insiders” on a list he (Rauner) maintained. Emanuel was one of these people — who, apparently, begged to be taken off the list.

    This, according to several recent articles, about how Rauner met Emanuel.

  22. - illinoised - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 12:41 pm:

    He is the penultimate politician - a special interest complaining about another special interest.

  23. - m - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 12:41 pm:

    I think the idea of stealth democracy is wasted here. Everyone in politics is using that, CEO or otherwise. Who is up this year that hasn’t used the line “John Doe will stand up to (insert Madigan or Rauner) and the (insert special interests or billionaires) and hold them accountable”? Because every candidate just needs to get elected to stop the boogeyman that “everyone agrees” is the problem.

    Obama’s “hope and change” belongs right next “make america great,” shake up Springfield”, “it’s your time” and “a future to believe in”, etc. They all play on the idea that we all agree with what the problem is and this guy or woman will fix it by standing up to the bad guys that are holding back all of us and america as a whole.

  24. - Anonymous - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 12:44 pm:

    I meant “ultimate.”

  25. - From the 'Dale to HP - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 12:45 pm:

    I think people are pretty upset and angry about the outcomes. Ignoring that got us as a state/nation into this mess.

  26. - chiatty - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 12:54 pm:

    MisterJayEm nails it. He hid his agenda while campaigning but now acts like everybody knew exactly what he stood for. Can’t say that I blame him, as it’s hard to run for government on a nihilistic platform. It’s much easier to act like you want to govern and then win and refuse to govern unless you get your demands met, even if you don’t have enough votes to get any legislation passed.

  27. - Beeker - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 12:58 pm:

    How about the left’s global warming, er, climate change or free healthcare which cannot be questioned? It is the left that wants to take away rights so the rest have to comply. Nice try though.

  28. - Mongo - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 1:05 pm:

    The “left’s” global warming? Don’t you mean global warming, period? The “left” doesn’t own it. Or was that snark?

  29. - @MisterJayEm - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 1:08 pm:

    How about the left’s global warming, er, climate change or free healthcare which cannot be questioned? It is the left that wants to take away rights so the rest have to comply.

    You seem smart.

    – MrJM

  30. - Federalist - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 1:12 pm:

    An excellent piece that is thought provoking. But it tends to target Rauner and Trump in this type of ‘thinking.’

    As Granny said when she found the road kill “plenty to go ’round for everybody.”

  31. - Anonymous - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 1:29 pm:

    @Chicago 20

    My wording was very ambiguous, so I apologize for any misunderstanding. What I meant by “it would make more sense to let everything burn before he makes serious compromises on his Turnaround Agenda” is that it we believe that Rauner’s main concern is to fix the political process and that’s where he gets his political legitimacy from, then it makes more sense from Rauner’s pov to trash outcomes in the pursuit of fixing the process.

    I do not support this, but I can understand the position he’s backed himself into.

    I hope that made my point clearer.

  32. - Chicago_Downstater - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 1:30 pm:

    That anonymous post at 1:29 was me.

    Sorry still getting use to this forum :)

  33. - Boone's is Back - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 1:35 pm:

    I think the points made more sense in 2002. 2016 is a different ballgame.

    Since 2002 we’ve had… Citizens United and then complete gridlock in Congress to the point that even routine, previously bi-partisan legislation like the yearly highway appropriation bill and debt ceiling bill get held hostage.

    Here in IL political forces just spent a combined $6 million on a state representative PRIMARY election.

    While I think the overall point that people need to be more informed is fair , I think a lot has happened since 2002 for people to become insanely frustrated with the system and “the process.” And I think those frustrations are definitely warranted.

  34. - justthefacts - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 1:38 pm:

    Rauner is an ideologue and probably believes with enough money spent he can import anti-union legislation from other states. The brick wall is that IL is better educated than neighboring states, and much less gullible to such tactics.

  35. - Tom K. - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 1:39 pm:

    ==I think people are pretty upset and angry about the outcomes. Ignoring that got us as a state/nation into this mess.==
    That was it for me personally, in maybe 2008. And the first thing I thought of, was “Who’s been in charge for the past decade, anyway?”. And that was before I ever heard of Bruce Rauner. The name on the ballot only had to be “NotMadigan”, and I would have punched the chad. And will do so again, “NotMadigan” has my vote forever at this point.

  36. - veritas - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 1:55 pm:

    ===Actually this has been, at least for me, one of the biggest surprises — that Rauner has not offered up a detailed set of cohesive arguments for debate===

    Spot on Vole - reasonable folks can be swayed by numbers and facts. The governor is arguing for change, but has never supplied any convincing data that his ideas will create the change he so desperately wants. If you fancy yourself as a change agent - it is your job to communicate the rationale for and the path to change.

  37. - Federalist - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 2:20 pm:

    - justthefacts - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 1:38 pm:

    Rauner is an ideologue and probably believes with enough money spent he can import anti-union legislation from other states. The brick wall is that IL is better educated than neighboring states, and much less gullible to such tactics.

    Yes, I too believe that is his goal. And yes, that will be more difficult to do for more highly skilled jobs. But for the many, many low skill or virtually no skill jobs out there this will not be difficult.

    It is heightened by the tremendous number of immigrants, both legal and illegal, far too many who have few skills that are increasingly part of the Illinois population.

    Rauner and other business elites, understand this very well.

  38. - Chicagonk - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 2:29 pm:

    One of the first thing I learned when I worked in politics was that there are no simple bills and no simple agreements. This wasn’t always the case.

  39. - Sillies - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 2:31 pm:

    I am re-reading a book by Jonathan Haidt, “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Religion and Politics. The answers to this question are all in that book.

    Rauner, Madigan, you and I all cling to our own individual balance of moral positions which we come to instinctively. Rational reason is only a secondary process to confirm what our gut tells us. The only way to overrule our personal moral frameworks (a combination of 5 or 6 “tastes” for harm/care, sancity, loyalty, etc.) are to spend time with one another and gain empathy necessary to find consensus.

  40. - jeffinginchicago - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 2:52 pm:

    @Sillies I agree wholeheartedly with your last sentence. Hard to do though when you think the people who disagree with you are stupid, drunk the koolaid, etc. Based on my facebook page we would rather throw accusations than appeal to empathy.

  41. - Harry - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 2:52 pm:

    I am not impressed by this argument.

    I agree with Sillies about “The Righteous Mind.”

    As far as I can see, Rauner wanted to be Scott Walker but in a bigger state, but didn’t appreciate that Walker had a GOP State Assembly to work with. The whole “Stealth Democracy” thing may enter into it, tangentially, but it’s not the core of the issue.

    Anyway, believe it or not, most people have other things to do than follow politics, and if the policy outcomes are OK for them, they are not inclined to start getting into process questions… that’s backwards.

  42. - Harry - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 2:53 pm:

    So, I would say that if Rauner is really using the “Stealth Democracy” theory, no wonder he isn’t making headway.

  43. - Ghost - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 3:13 pm:

    MrJM along the same lines, he wouldnt keep saying structural reforms to hide his actual proposals if he thought everyone was behind them.

  44. - Wensicia - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 4:04 pm:

    The message has always been the same; it’s just the messengers that change up from election to election. Former messengers become the hated establishment, using government to harm us. New messengers will change everything for the better (by going around government)…until they don’t. And so it goes…

  45. - Phoenix - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 5:05 pm:

    Long winded explanation for the Dunning Kruger effect?

  46. - Ghost - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 5:37 pm:


    people in Illinois vote the way Miller tells them to vote…..

  47. - wordslinger - Monday, Mar 21, 16 @ 7:39 pm:


    I think Rauner has some of the people, all of the time, believing his spin is sincere.

    That leads to windy, psycho-babble trying to square the governor’s rhetoric with his actions.

    Forget the rhetoric, pay attention to the actions.

    The governor knows what he’s doing. Act accordingly.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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