Punchinello’s Chronicles

December 10, 2008

Introduction to Illinois Politics

Filed under: Survival 101 — Punchinello @ 1:55 am
Tags: , , ,

The American public has spoken, voting to elect Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States. Unfortunately, most of those voters don’t quite understand Illinois, Chicago, or the way we do things around here. Chicago’s motto is “The City that Works,” but that doesn’t mean anyone actually holds a real job and does physical work.

To begin with, Illinois is a long, tall, skinny state, located on the coast of the Lake Michigan Ocean. It’s up near the top of America, near Canada. Although it appears within a standard map of the United States, the peoples of Illinois consider themselves to be a separate nation. Whatever laws apply to the US, don’t necessarily apply to Illinois.

The overall state political scene is divided into three portions. The Governor’s office, the State Legislature (usually called Springfield), and Chicago (also called The City). Everything thing else and anyone living in the remaining empty space doesn’t count.

Geographically, there are only two parts to Illinois: upstate and downstate. Anything outside of The City and its surrounding “collar suburbs” is downstate, even if it’s to the north or west. Nothing that happens downstate really matters either, although to people living there, they say the reverse about upstate.

Of the three primary political spheres, Chicago is the most important, with the Governor’s Office being the least important. In Illinois, the typical career path for governor begins with local and county politics, then expands toward state politics. Following some sort of patronage job, the governor may be elected or may simply be placed into office. After a few terms, the governor then goes to jail. Serving the people in jail sometimes continues until retirement, or at other times, may be a stepping stone toward wider horizons.

Springfield has little if anything to do with Chicago, the other major section of the state. What happens in Springfield only rarely affects or concerns the people of Chicago, and vice versa. Generally, whatever money comes into the tax collection offices is divided fairly between the two central population areas. Springfield gets $1, and Chicago gets $5 or thereabouts.

Aside from alleged tax revenues, Chicago has its own self-sufficient system of bringing in money. Much of it comes through property taxes and other surcharges, while the rest comes from voluntary contributions. We have a very civic-minded population here, and everyone likes to send lots of money to The City, as it’s affectionately known.

Regardless of what money is sent to The City, none of it returns in the way of services, infrastructure, or other functions like people have in the United States. Those things are taken care of through a process called “clout.” This complex social and cultural concept is as difficult to explain as “face” in Asian countries. In a nutshell, “having clout” means knowing someone in the political class, somewhere in either Springfield or The City.

For those of you in the US, you should understand that Mr. Obama grew up, entered politics, and took his Ph.D. in clout by learning to operate within Illinois politics. To that end, none of the historical systems and methods used in US politics matter, mean anything, or likely will take place.

The office of the President likely will function much like The City, with the office of Da’ Mayor. The US Congress, then would be like Springfield. Whatever happens in Congress, stays in Congress, having little or no bearing on what the Executive branch is doing.

Illinois does have a nominal justice system, including various judges, courts, and enforcement agencies. Of those, the enforcement agencies are the only ones that actually function and work for the good of the citizens. The courts may or may not actually function, depending on who’s brother-in-law runs what. As such, the Supreme Court of the United States may have some sort of marginal effect, or may not.

Few people pay attention to national Senators or Representatives in the House, and yet Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, as Majority Whip, has become one of the most influential members of the Senate. This provides plenty of opportunity for clout, making money, and putting friends and family members into some sort of public office. Whomever purchases the other Senate seat, vacated by Mr. Obama, will be a junior Senator for as long as Sen. Durbin continues in office.

It’s important to understand that as long as nobody really complains, and as long as the political patricians don’t steal TOO much, things drift along without collapsing. In the recent case of Governor Blagojevitch (“Blogo”), the problem was that President-elect Obama didn’t feel it necessary to “go to” the governor anymore. That led to an upset in “da way t’ings ‘r done,” and caused the governor to lose his mind.

Understanding all of this, and how US politics likely will be changed is only a matter of looking back in history. The most well-examined time of Chicago politics was that of Al Capone, during the Depression era and the years of Prohibition. Since the American voters and Mr. Obama seem to be desirous of returning to those times, we likely should see pretty much the same political structure.

The other thing to keep in mind is that the common, everyday working person means nothing at all in the scheme of things. Everything is designed around the clout system, all of which is a top-down investment scheme. Whenever you hear about how “the government” is going to do something remotely resembling “work,” all you need to do is make some simple translations. “Work” means “get money.”

Much the way Franklin D. Roosevelt helped bring the United States to its economic knees, The City (soon to be Washington D.C.) will reach out to “help” the overall country. As in Illinois, nothing actually will ever be accomplished, but anyone associated with government will make more and more money. As the popular expression here among the peasants goes, “Hang on to your wallets!”

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1 Comment »

  1. […] The American public has spoken, voting to elect Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States. Unfortunately, most of those voters don’t quite understand Illinois, Chicago, or the way we do things around here. …[Continue Reading] […]

    Pingback by The Economy » Blog Archive » Introduction To Illinois Politics « Punchinello’S Chronicles — December 10, 2008 @ 5:09 pm | Reply


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