Cartooning is an art.
The work of Sun-Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist Jack Higgins and the creators of “The Simpsons” come to mind.
They can cut through the clutter of complicated issues to make a serious point with cutting humor.
But it’s a rare talent.
So here’s hoping Gov. Pat Quinn and his Republican challenger, Bruce Rauner, figure that out sooner rather than later.
Quinn, we are forced to remember, launched Squeezy the Pension Python in 2012. The diabolical orange creature was the governor’s way of showing how critics of his pension overhaul would squeeze state programs like education. It was downright painful to watch a sitting governor talk out loud about an imaginary snake.
This month Quinn launched a YouTube attack ad casting Rauner as the cartoon skinflint millionaire Mr. Burns, on “The Simpsons.” That is, until Fox TV declared a copyright infringement and the ad was pulled.
Rauner has countered with a cheesy imitation of an old “West Wing” TV episode by dressing up a hapless campaign staffer as “Quinnocchio.” Heaven help us if there’s another Rauner volunteer in the wings with a Geppetto costume.
We have a race pitting two men with different liabilities. A lot of voters don’t like Quinn. A November 2013 survey by Public Policy Polling found only 34 percent of Illinois voters approved of his job performance. Then there is Rauner, an uber-rich first-time candidate with a fortune that almost no one can relate to. According to the U.S Census, the median household income in the state is about $57,000. Rauner earns that in about the time it takes to watch a baseball game.
Each man is trying to commandeer the optics of this race to negatively define the other.
Each faces significant hurdles.
The first is an alienated electorate. Witness the beyond dismal turnout in the March 18 Illinois primary. About 430,000 fewer people decided to vote this time compared to the 2010 primary. That’s like the entire towns of Rockford, Joliet and Springfield taking a pass.
Tom Bevan, the highly regarded co-creator of the website RealClearPolitics, believes the November contest will be close and will be closely watched throughout the country. And he thinks it could all boil down to one simple factor: likability.
In the 2004 presidential race, he argues, Bush had a lower approval rating than Kerry but won. The teetotaler Bush was still the guy people would rather have a beer with.
Same for the Romney-Obama contest of 2012. “Romney won the issue of who could best handle the economy,” said Bevan, “but Obama was more likable.” In other words, empathy trumped the antiseptic.
In the national news cycle, says Bevan, Illinois will share a spotlight with Wisconsin and Texas.
I’d argue one way to become likable to Illinois voters is to dump the cartoons, skip the platitudes, and offer a specific and verifiable case for moving Illinois forward.
Less than that and it’s just all Mickey Mouse.