To understand the history, perversion and inversion of the two-party system we use in this country, you’d need to know what it meant to be a Democrat in Illinois in the 1960s. The “Machine” nickname came from the political monopoly over the city of Chicago, which kept its royal family of Irish Catholics as its ruling party for decades.
Few Illinoisans actually believed that being a Democrat meant you were supporting social programs or equal justice for all. Mayor Daley the Elder was not one to explain the philosophy or platform of his party; he only needed to know he was the boss, with total control over it. The Civil Rights movement, anti-war resistance, school desegregation and women’s rights groups did not thrive with the mid-century Democrats of Chicago. Rather, they survived in spite of people like Daley.
Last month, the incarcerated former Democratic governor of Illinois was given a presidential commutation for the rest of his 14-year sentence. He is known as “Rod” because it’s too much trouble to say his last name, Blagojevich, and he is the fourth of the last seven Illinois governors to be sent to prison. The judge who gave him 14 years wanted to make him an example for future elected officials, since the 6.5-year sentence of his Republican predecessor didn’t seem to deter Rod from using the office for his own benefit as well.
Ironically, it started, and ended, with a phone call he made. The prosecution used it as the evidence they needed to prove that Rod intended to carry out a plan to “sell” the Senate seat vacated by president-elect Obama. On the recording, Rod tells another politician he won’t give that seat up “for nothing — this is (bleeping) golden.” The phrase quickly became part of the Midwestern lexicon.
So in Illinois, where I am from, sometimes you have no choice to vote for the Republican, although why party names are even used in state, municipal or county offices is beyond me. A well-known story about a Chicago law student, who later became a Democratic congressman and federal judge, happened in 1948 when he stopped by his alderman’s ward office to volunteer for the upcoming campaign. When he was asked who sent him, he said, “nobody.” He was told, “we don’t want nobody that nobody sent.” That’s pretty much how political parties still work.
And switching parties is not uncommon. “Party hopping” can be done by politicians while in office, although it’s more frequently done before an election, or perhaps years in advance. For example, Trump has changed his party affiliation five times since 1987, as is anyone’s right to do. As a Democrat in 2004, he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, “it just seems that the economy does better under the Democrats.” He was correct.
And here in West Virginia, the governor switched parties just one year into office. You’d think there should be a law against false advertising in campaigning, seeing as people likely supported him as a candidate according to party affiliations, as I did. And if the wind is blowing the opposite direction next year, elected officials might again switch, resembling a grown-up version of musical chairs. Even though you know that politicians tell you whatever you want to hear, that’s something you need to realize before you vote for them, not after they’ve jilted you. Hence, my favorite saying is, “disillusionment starts after your guy wins.” But for a politician to change parties, it seems like it would require a lot of soul-searching and plenty of transparency, neither of which is evident in the conversions of Jim Justice or our sitting president.
Meanwhile, back in Illinois, at least Rod has a good reason for saying he will support Trump for president this year rather than the nominee of his party. Serving four fewer years in a federal white-collar prison has made him a self-described “Trump-o-crat.” That Bleeping Golden Rule might have worked out well for him, but I seriously doubt that anyone will split their 2020 ticket based on Rod’s personal good fortune. Even the Illinois State Republican delegation criticized the commutation, saying, “Blagojevich is the face of public corruption in Illinois and not once has he shown any remorse.”
It makes you wonder. If the law of the land was good enough to follow when it locked him up, why would the “law and order” candidate and head of the “law and order” Republican party disagree with that law now, unless it could sway voters in a Democratic state? If it’s that easy to influence people, as the Russians actually proved in 2016, perhaps everyone should just register as independents, including the candidates.
Sometimes the “nobody that nobody sent” would be a better choice than a “somebody that somebody sent,” especially when that “somebody” can change at any time; from blue to red, or even to golden.