What's local? What's national?

Yesterday I read that Arnold Schwarzenegger enjoys the highest approval rating of any California governor since 1975.

This has been much on my mind as I've endeavored to figure out what was "behind the decision" to run Alan Keyes as the Republican senatorial candidate in Illinois.

For what it's worth, I went to the trouble of following this story as it unfolded in the Chicago Tribune, and the results surprised me. A couple of days ago, I thought that "the Republicans" had gone crazy at the national level.

Now I see that it was pretty much a matter of local politics, and I'm feeling naive. I forgot the basic principle that you never look for a complicated explanation when a simple one will do. And never attribute to intelligence or design that which can best be explained by simple human stupidity.

It wasn't Washington calling the shots; it was Rockford:

State Sen. Dave Syverson, a Republican from Rockford who pushed hardest for Keyes to be considered, echoed several other committee members' opinions that if Hillary Clinton can successfully run for senator in New York, Keyes can run in Illinois.

"I think, if he's the one who's selected, he will take up residency, and he will become an Illinoisan pretty quick, because his views are pretty in line with Illinois," Syverson said, adding that Keyes' "national celebrity" will help him to get his message out.

Keyes, who also served as an ambassador to the United Nations in the Reagan administration, ran unsuccessfully for Senate in Maryland in 1988 and 1992 and in the Republican presidential primaries in 1996 and 2000. In the 1996 race in Illinois, Keyes placed a distant fourth behind eventual nominee Robert Dole and in 2000 only 9 percent of Illinois GOP voters backed him versus Bush's 67 percent.

Another committee member, state Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale, said that Keyes "entered the picture because the media and others have elevated Barack Obama to national status, and this race has become bigger than Illinois. (Former) Ambassador Keyes is frothing at the bit to debate Barack's liberal philosophy on so many issues."

It came down to last minute lobbying not by Karl Rove, but by State Senators Steve Rauschenberger (who didn't want to run against Obama) and Dave Syversen (who was generally disgruntled). From the Tribune:
Keyes' entered the race only within the last few days as state Sen. Dave Syverson of Rockford and state Sen. Steve Rauschenberger of Elgin pushed for Keyes' nomination.

If anything, the Keyes selection was a reaction by local conservatives against the national "moderate leadership":

Keyes' decision comes as ideological rifts finally have come to a head between conservatives and moderates within an Illinois Republican Party battered by scandal and struggling to find its vision. That it took nearly six weeks to pick someone to replace March primary winner Jack Ryan on the Nov. 2 ballot--and the machinations the GOP hierarchy went through to come up with Keyes--points to a sharply divided political organization, some Republicans say.

"No comment," former Gov. Jim Edgar, a moderate, said of the offer to Keyes, a line that may speak volumes considering Edgar's role as chairman of an already uphill battle to win Illinois for President Bush's re-election.

Former Gov. James Thompson said he had "no idea" whether he was going to endorse Keyes. "I'll wait and see what he has to say."

Conservatives, who have chafed under decades of moderate leadership of the state Republican Party, have viewed the implosion caused by the scandal surrounding George Ryan's tenure in public office and Jack Ryan's withdrawal from the Senate race as an opportunity to seize control of the GOP leadership.

This whole thing may boil down to be a hissy fit thrown by five Illinois conservatives:

Keyes was joined by a veritable who's who of Illinois conservatives, all of whom have long felt neglected by a state Republican Party controlled by social moderates. The announcement provided a reunion event for the "Fab Five," a group of five conservative Illinois state senators first elected in 1992. That group includes former Sen. Patrick O'Malley of Palos Park, Sen. Steve Rauschenberger (R-Elgin), Sen. Dave Syverson (R-Rockford) and Sen. Chris Lauzen (R-Aurora). The fifth member of the group is U.S. Sen. Peter Fitzgerald of Inverness, whose seat Keyes is seeking.

"I don't know that he will win, but I do know that the free ride for Barack Obama is over," Fitzgerald said. He said Keyes "will be a great spokesperson for core Republican principles and he will put up a fight."

There it is. Local resentment. Not a plot by Karl Rove. Not an experiment in floating a way-out candidate as a cynical test run.

Of course, the Illinois Fab Five know Keyes will lose, but they're delighted to have a chance to behave like California's moral conservatives.

And what about outgoing Senator Fitzgerald?

Fitzgerald said his No. 1 achievement has been to bring "independent U.S. attorneys to Illinois,'' most notably Patrick Fitzgerald, a nationally ranked prosecutor who has no ties to the Illinois GOP insider establishment that the senator loathes. He is next proudest of throwing up roadblocks to deals for the Defense Department to lease refueling tankers from Chicago-based Boeing and government loan guarantees to the struggling United Airlines, based near Elk Grove Village. Both deals were championed by House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), but Fitzgerald will not give the benefit of the doubt to a home state company if he thinks it is a waste of taxpayer money, a philosophy that has put him at odds with his colleagues in the Illinois delegation.

Fitzgerald is more interested in who runs for governor of Illinois in 2006 than who will replace him because the job of governor -- and who leads the Illinois Republican Party -- has more to do with his long fight against corruption and government waste that started when he was a state senator.

Over lunch in the Senate dining room, Fitzgerald and I talked about what he wants to do in his remaining months in office, about his achievements in five-plus years in the Senate and what he wants to do in the future. We wrestled over the bill, and we each paid for our own meal.

Most of the stories about Fitzgerald in Illinois have to do with his battles with what he sees as shady influences within the GOP, his ongoing fight against O'Hare airport expansion and his icy relationship with Hastert.

Fitzgerald's reasons for vacating his seat are mysterious, and open to speculation:
Fitzgerald's reasons for dropping out are obscure, but some have theorized that he is leaving because his independent-mindedness may have caused the White House to quietly ask him to step down.

Clearly, Illinois Republicans are an angry bunch, and I think they've succeeded in making trouble for the Republicans nationally.

In fact, their antics have prompted a surprisingly astute challenge from Jesse Jackson to President Bush:

.....Rev. Jesse Jackson, who is backing Obama, challenged the national Republican Party to prove Keyes' importance by making him a centerpiece of the Republican National Convention, which starts Aug. 30.

With Keyes at the top of the statewide races in Illinois, "It means prime time for the convention. It means [President] Bush should campaign for him, as [Sen. John] Kerry did for Barack," Jackson said.

Jackson obviously knows full well that this wasn't a national decision, and his remarks prove it's local Illinois politics.

Meanwhile, Keyes is sweating, and one of his supporters wiped the sweat from his brow.

He's offering the napkin for sale on Ebay. Buy It Now price? $999.99! (I think that qualifies as sweat equity....)

And if you don't want (or can't afford) Alan Keyes' sweaty napkin, there's always this.

I don't think Barack Obama is sweating. Here's one of his Illinois supporters:

The Republicans are running a man who couldn't win for senator in his own state -- one that is, one might add, trending gently Republican. They're now trying to run him here, in a state that is trending Democratic, where he couldn't reach 10% of the Republican vote in two presidential primaries. The Republicans wanted name recognition to bring attention to their candidate; well, yes, one must concede that they've achieved that much. Of course, the downside to that name recognition is that it's been pretty clearly demonstrated that the Republican voters ... don't actually like him. For some reason, they also seemed to think it was important to "neutralize the race issue" by throwing it into sharp relief -- after all, by noting (repeatedly) that it will be the first time that two African-Americans have ever run against each other for senator from the same state, that manages to thrust the race issue, such as it is, into everyone's face. The problem is, of course, for all the Republicans' insistence that Illinois is a sincerely conservative state, it's actually pretty much moderate. Keyes' stance on most issues is pretty much appalling.
Pretty much I'd say.

But I don't think it's fair to blame the RNC, or Bush, or Rove, because if anything this whole affair seems to have been directed not by them but at them.

(For more local analysis, there's lots and lots of stuff here. And more on the napkin here.)

posted by Eric on 08.11.04 at 09:13 AM


Illinois moderate?? The state where they arrest homeless people for not keeping their 10-year old gun sale records is MODERATE?

The state that issues an arbitrary tax on DuPage (because it's fairly wealth) and give the tax money to Cook County (because it's full of mafia-kissing democrats and their broke constitutents) is MODERATE? Yeah, well, moderate compared to Stalin, I guess. These things are relative.

Persnickety   ·  August 11, 2004 11:43 AM

Alan Keyes is an embarrasment on several counts. Aside from lunatic ravings, he reflects poorly on those fringe Republicans who support him. It's clear that he was chosen not because he's a Republican, or because he has a chance to win, but because some racist jackasses believed they needed to counter one black candidate with another.

Anyone with any sense would have to vote for Barack Obama regardless of party affiliation. A vote for Keyes is a vote not only for ugly ideology but for puppeteering of the worst kind.

Varius Contrarius   ·  August 11, 2004 1:00 PM

Illinois conservatives were resentful and I can't blame them for that. (I happen to agree with Persnickety on the Second Amendment.)

It's just that this temper tantrum is a futile sort of revenge, and anything but moderate.

Eric Scheie   ·  August 11, 2004 1:40 PM

The title of this post reminded me of a dream I once had in which a Conservative explained that the difference between the Left vs. the Right was that the Left was for "the Universal" while the Right was for "the National, the Local, and the Individual". The _style_ of that!

Speaking of the Individual, I'm against gun control, of course, but I must also note that Illinois was the first state to abolish "sodomy" laws, back in 1961.

You seem to misunderstand the Illinois Republican party. The "moderates" are completely corrupt--they are the party of big business and high taxes and high spending and patronage and accomodation with the Daley machine.

Peter Fitzgerald's struggles with the party are notable only because, in every case, Fitzgerald has been right. He's not some far-right Republican. He's actually relatively liberal on some issues (environmental protection, for example), while being a traditional Republican conservative on others. But his most important battles have been against the ingrained corruption of the Illinois Republican party (and, in particular, the corruption of the moderates who control the party).

The selection of Keyes reflects, it seems to me, the difficulty the party had in choosing one of its own for the position. Moderates wouldn't support an Illinois conservative, and Illinois conservatives wouldn't support an Illinois moderate. The big name figures (Ditka for example) weren't willing to commit. So what choice is left? Find someone who is willing to take one for the team, which Keyes is willing to do.

Keyes is no more conservative than Obama is liberal. (I say this as someone who is familiar with the sorts of things Obama said to his law school students.) He's certainly as intelligent as Obama. He'll provide an alternative voice and an alternative choice at the ballot box, all without forcing the Illinois Republicans to come to grips with their problems.

Thomas   ·  August 12, 2004 2:54 PM

Keyes says moral breakdown is causing the drug problem.

And his answer that would make any socialist proud?

More government. Besides being a whack job he is an idiot.

I hate voting socialist. What are the other choices?


John Kerry a man who faced shot and shell in Vietnam is afraid of paper in America.

What is the War Hero Afraid of?

Form 180. Release the records.

M. Simon   ·  August 14, 2004 2:44 AM

Did I mention I live in Rockford?


Do you know where John Kerry spent Christamas in 1968?

You don't?

That is all right. Neither does John.

What is the War Hero Afraid of?

Form 180. Release the records.

M. Simon   ·  August 14, 2004 2:51 AM

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