Friday, October 3, 2008

TPH Op-Ed: Dining with Doubt

The following is a piece by Matthew H. Griffin about local politics in suburban Chicago. It also touches on voters' economic uncertainty and the desire to be reassured, or at least talked to like adults. Enjoy.

-The Management

For reasons still unknown to me, I found myself invited to a campaign dinner in a posh home in Hinsdale. It was a hard decision: dance class or political dinner.

I can see and feel change I like at one of those places, but I steeled myself and my resolve to hear if IL-13 opposition candidate Scott Harper (D) had anything productive to add to the dialogue about the economy. It sticks in my craw that my one and only financial instrument is worth 70% of what I paid for it.

With Senator Obama's choice to frame the crisis in bleakly populist terms like "When will Wall Street get that the crisis has already hit Main Street?", I have increasingly been dismayed by the lack of gumption our progressive politicians have demonstrated when speaking on this crisis. We're quick to solutions like a $700 billion bailout but slow on providing context for this crisis.

Upon hearing the news that I was going to a tony reception, a friend who has a son involved in the campaign business exclaimed, "My son has been to tons of those in New York, and he says that we have more erudite conversation around the dinner table." High dissatisfaction coupled with low expectations is not a very promising situation. I am reminded of the young dancers playing – well - young people in David Dorfman's Underground pumping their fists in the air chanting, "We're apathetic!"

At the party, I found that I was surrounded by deliciously informed voters. One voter knew the roll-call of Northeast Illinois' Congressional delegation on today's failed financial bailout. Another voter explained the credit crisis to me in great detail. I told this man that I expected our elected officials to be able to articulate the roots of the crisis, to which he responded that most people do not follow the crisis in as much depth as he does. I conceded this pointed and countered that it's important that elected officials have really sharp staff!

He sighed and said, "Ah well, it's the American 'S' factor."

"'S' factor?" I said.

"S for stupid," said he. "No one would understand the explanation. What did Churchill say, 'Five minutes with any voter is enough to discourage any politician!'"

Five minutes with this informed voter was very heartening to me, but would I be able to say the same after hearing Harper speak? After Harper did speak, a high school pal's father listened to me pining for specifics. He reminded me, "Politicians aren't anybody's friend."

To Mr. Harper's credit, he respectfully took his potential constituents' questions with an openness of spirit. I was reminded of a teacher who said that the Dali Lama is always smiling. We're dealing with big amounts of money here and serious issues and we are looking for the candidate who makes the well-timed joke that gets to the heart of the matter. It's the better person who does. "Will she debate you?" asked a local politician referring to Scott's incumbent opponent Judy Biggert (R).

"We'll make something of it if she does not," replied Harper with a smile.

-Matthew H. Griffin

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