I'm Grumpy, with the clip art to prove it. After voting in the Illinois primary I left town for a trip to Disney World, and the election followed me into Fantasyland.
How many people voted Feb. 2, and how many watched "Lost" that night? About 13 percent of TV sets were tuned to the "Lost" premiere, and 15 percent were were listening to contestants sing "God Bless the USA" on "American Idol." In the polling booth, at least I know I'm free. Yet two TV shows can capture more interest than voting. A scant 27 percent of registered Chicago voters were tuned in to the candidates, a record low for a non-presidential primary. Statewide totals were reportedly even lower.
Two weeks later, the election is still not quite locked up. The top Republican candidate for governor, Bill Brady, had only a few hundred votes to spare and the results are not final. Not many people know Brady, a state senator from Bloomington. And the lieutenant governor's race had enough mystery to rival Oceanic Flight 815: First we voted, then we learned about the candidates.
Today the Democrats are pulling Scott Lee Cohen off the ticket. He ran a typical campaign theme: Successful entrepreneur wants the state to benefit from his business acumen. Then we learned that he has had trouble keeping his business going, particularly the part about paying taxes. He also has an ex-wife who filed a protection order against him, and a girlfriend who filed a battery charge. The Republican nominee, Jason Plummer, had the same pitch with few troubles and few experiences. Internships were still on my resume too when I was 27. But I was working in an industrial park in Elk Grove Village, not running for high office.
None of this Illinois news made it to Florida. National media were building up a speech by a former governor, Sarah Palin, who enthralled Tea Party conventioneers in Nashville by the hundreds. Tomorrow the Emergency Nurses Association will draw twice the crowd to a leadership conference in Chicago, without a hint of hype. But saving lives doesn't have the allure of saving on taxes.
When it came to electing an actual governor, we did not stream to the polls -- at 7:30 a.m. I was the third voter in my precinct. But it's not like the candidates did much to draw them out. Every hopeful for governor had a great plan for shoring up the state finances, but none had a great plan to get the plan through the Legislature. The Democratic race for governor seemed to be about the blame for misdeeds at Burr Oak Cemetery -- not a major issue for anyone in government other than the state prosecutor, who was running unopposed for another term. Polls say she would have beat all comers for governor.
Contests lower on the ticket obviously didn't demand much attention. The lieutenant governor's seat is vacant now, and there wasn't a lot there for the last one to do. For his $135,000 salary at least Pat Quinn did newsrooms the favor of holding press conferences on slow news days. Given the odds that an Illinois governor will end up in the hoosegow, maybe we should be watching the lieutenant governor more closely. As governor, Pat Quinn is still getting in front of cameras on Sunday mornings. Is that what voters reward in a politician?
If I want a show, I'll go to Disney World. It's easy to enjoy the landscape and its well manicured ponds, and not think about how shallow they are. Just about everything at Disney is gloss. The Italian exhibit at Epcot is not as imposing as Doge's Palace, but well scrubbed. Disney has adorable city streets, but they're Hollywood Studios backlots where no one lives. Thrill rides are packaged as research at the Dinosaur Institute or the Yeti Museum. Abominable Snowman: Fact or Fiction? You're at an amusement park. It's all fiction. Yet the boy ahead of me at Expedition Everest was excited at the prospect of actually seeing a yeti! Tourists make quick work of the mountain, no sherpa required. At Disney World, the fantasy is enough.
Frankly I was glad to be on the plane home to a real-world destination but was confronted by more fantasy. In the Sky Mall catalog Hammacher Schlemmer offered a faux security camera -- a battery-powered canister that does nothing more than swivel back and forth. A faux security camera is great if you're looking for faux security. I'd feel more comfortable if police were involved. But security cameras are costly, and cops are costlier still.
Government seems more willing these days to settle for the Disney version. Airport security is on the alert for terrorists, yet bombers slip past the hair-gel inspectors. Police departments vow to keep cops on the streets, but they have to think twice about arresting someone because it will mean a crosstown trip to the nearest lockup. And schools claim to leave no child behind. So why is it that city parents pull every string they can find to avoid enrolling their kids in a local school?
A better system couldn't help but cost more. But somehow we expect every politician to lower our taxes. We'd rather think every complex problem has a simple answer, and all we need are politicians who can run government like a business. Maybe there's some truth to that. Disney runs a collection of tidy villages in Florida. But getting into the park is $80 a day. Having been presented the bill at Disney, I cannot share the tea partiers' anger about their tax bills. Call me Grumpy, but good government is complicated. Getting it will mean all of us paying more attention. Anyone who says otherwise is just Goofy.