By Dan Proft
This week two Chicago Democrat politicians who are farther out over their skis than Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards ever was (I’ve got Winter Olympics fever) will tell us their version of the state of United States of America, and the state of the State of Illinois.
They will explain to us that with just a few structural tax increases, and a price control or two, we could be living in a modern Utopia not even H.G. Wells could have imagined.
These two Manchurian executives will promise fairness and equality. But all they really have to offer is the fool’s gold of resentment and entitlement.
Where did those two million jobs go since President Barack Obama took office? The one-percenters are hiding them in their yachts and Swiss bank accounts. Have an Obamaphone.
Where did the roughly 250,000 people who have left Illinois during Governor Pat Quinn’s five-year tenure go? The one-percenters are storing them in cryogenic chambers in a right-to-work state. How about a game of video poker.
The magnanimity of Messrs. Obama and Quinn for the other ninety-nine percent is mainly limited to Medicaid-coverage and a buck or two more per hour for the minimum wage jobs they don’t have.
Both gentlemen will tell us that their desire is to bring the working poor to middle-income level. They use the term “class” but I prefer to remember America as a non-caste experiment in self-governance.
Whose aspirations will not be addressed? Middle-income working families clutching their current lot, and those sacrificing to move up from there.
It is easy to dismiss and even to denigrate Messrs. Obama and Quinn. Their performance has been miserable and their perfidy richly deserves it.
Yet, both were reelected when they should not have been. How did they do it? They preyed on the powerlessness felt by two-thirds of Americans who believe the distribution of income in our country is unfair.
A NBC/Wall Street Journal survey conducted this week finds 59% of Americans feel pessimistic or uncertain about the future.
Almost every survey of Illinois residents taken during the past five years has found upwards of 80% who believe Illinois is on the wrong track. Sadly, it is the remaining 20% who are mistaken.
With such distaste for the status quo, how are its beneficiaries able to perpetuate it?
Why does it seem the worse the people in charge make things, the better it gets politically for them?
If people are so gloomy, why don’t our fellow citizens get outraged, and fire the current crop of politicians by voting them out?
Philosopher Eric Hoffer explained this counterintuitive state of affairs six decades ago. In Hoffer’s book “The True Believer,” he posited that two conditions must be present for discontent to turn into demand for change.
First, the disaffected must feel a sense of power. They have to believe they are in control of their circumstances and can alter the course of their lives for the better.
“Those who are awed by their surroundings do not think of change, no matter how miserable their conditions,” wrote Hoffer. “When our mode of life is so precarious as to make it patent that we cannot control the circumstance of our existence, we tend to stick to the proven and familiar.”
This, according to Hoffer, explained why there exists “a conservatism of the destitute as profound as the conservatism of the privileged.” That is what our current rulers have reduced many of our fellow citizens to: destitute people who are afraid of change and cling to the little they have.
Relating this to Illinois, most voters simply do not believe House Speaker Mike Madigan can be deposed. Many voters also believe there is no real difference between the two political parties anyway. These opinions are held by many Illinoisans who also think Illinois is on the wrong track. When people are reduced to hopelessness, they are inclined to endure the proven and familiar kleptocratic political culture, as bad as it is. So they resort to the familiar refrain, “There’s nothing I can do about it except move.”
The second essential condition Hoffer described, particularly as it relates to those in positions of power, is faith in the future.
“Fear of the future causes us to lean against and cling to the present, while faith in the future renders us receptive to change,” Hoffer observed.
Hoffer noted the Industrial Revolution as such a time. The world was being transformed by new technology at a dizzying pace, and old sources of wealth were disappearing. But the rich of those days had immense faith in the possibilities of the future. They were willing to risk the comfort and stability they knew.
Thus, the conservative response locally and nationally must focus on acceptance of responsibility rather than avoidance of blame. The recognition that those two are not synonymous would be revolutionary to our politics. Dispelling hopelessness and creating hope for the future means proposing good policies, explaining how these changes can improve our quality of life, and motivating people to take action.
Conservatives must really believe that the citizens of Illinois, and America, can take control of their destiny, and have hope for the future. They must really believe that the policies they propose will work, and will make Illinois and America lands of opportunity again. Only then will conservative reformers be able to inspire others to feel hope, and transition from passive discontent to active engagement to transform Illinois and America.