“Carthage must be destroyed.”
– Cato the Elder, Roman Senator
By: Mark Glennon*
The core identity of moral and fiscal bankruptcy in Illinois government cannot be denied. It controls the Illinois General Assembly, Chicago and Cook County. “The machine” isn’t often used to describe it any longer, but the “Chicago way” now universally communicates its infamy.
It has defied its end as persistently as did Carthage before Cato. Carthage was a mortal threat to the Roman Republic in the second century BC and had rebuilt itself time and again after earlier Roman invasions. Its total destruction was Rome’s only option, thought Cato, a Roman Senator. He became most known for his warning, with which he is said to have started and finished ever speech and every conversation, “Carthage must be destroyed.” His phrase became policy. Rome demolished Carthage and, legend says, sowed the ground under it with salt.
Nor can its party identity be denied. Cook County Democrats and party members they control stand all but alone against all ethical and fiscal reforms. They run their party and, with that, hold all legislative power. Smart and decent people choose different parties. Many Illinois Republicans have contributed to the state’s crisis in the past, and many Republicans at the national level terrify moderates who comprise most of Illinois. But it’s genuinely difficult to understand how anybody with a conscience supports the Illinois Democratic Party as it stands today. That party is the machine.
Destroying the machine is no longer about avoiding calamity. It’s about mitigating the hardship now inevitable and implementing a disaster recovery plan as rapidly as possible. It will not be destroyed just by replacing its leadership. Only cultural revulsion towards what they represent and full confession that their model of government is shattered will sustain lasting change. To hope that 2016 finally is the year for its destruction is too optimistic. It will take longer and it’s already too late for major parts of Illinois. The fiscal crisis has broken into open flames in Chicago public schools and dozens of towns caught in death spirals of higher property taxes and shrinking tax bases.
The initial battle is being fought on two fronts and remains to be won. The first front is against cover-up. Whether it’s financial ruin or police misconduct, cover-up — denying, delaying, extending and pretending — are the establishment’s routine. It’s “all just political exaggeration,” there’s “no crisis” with pensions, and reformist insurgents are “extremists” — those messages are machine dogma. Quack populism at its most vile is the second front. It’s the working class for whom the establishment says it fights, though the working class sinks further into despair each day, precisely as a consequence of their rule. On financial matters, a sleeping and partisan press corps validates the establishment’s side on both fronts. It’s part of the establishment.
Both fronts in that initial battle can be won this year because manifest facts invalidate lies, and the facts are becoming horribly palpable at a personal level for most Illinoisans. The rest of the struggle to set Illinois right won’t end yet. Make no mistake about what ultimate success requires.
The machine must be destroyed.
*Mark Glennon is founder of WirePoints. Opinions expressed are his own.