STEINBERG: Can ‘a normal person’ become governor?
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J.B. Pritzker gave another $7 million to his own gubernatorial campaign Friday.
Which, doing the math, is roughly the equivalent of me spending $700 on a plumber.
Except it isn’t, my finances being a lot more close to the bone than his. I miss $700 more than he misses $7 million.
We both get value for our money. I get a new boiler pump. And Pritzker airs TV commercials like the one I saw Monday night, a poignant spot with melancholy piano music and J.B. talking about his mother, who died of alcoholism. A medley of emotion, trying to humanize the billionaire.
It works. He comes off as very lifelike.
Which is more than what could be done for Gov. Bruce Rauner, who couldn’t be rendered human if Leo Burnett and J. Walter Thompson rose up from the grave and gave him the head-to-toe buffing makeover that Dorothy Gale gets upon arrival at the Emerald City.
No, the trouble is the whole notion of dueling tycoons.
The phone rang. It was Dan Biss, who is also running for governor but without benefit of an endless geyser of money fountaining over his head. We talked about nonpolitical things — who does that? — and laughed, for so long that I had to finally drop the hint: This is fun but I have work to do. What exactly is on your mind?
The race, of course.
“This has become a national referendum on whether you can run for office as a normal person at all,” he said. “In the era of Trump we have to decide if you can run for office if you’re not a billionaire. If you can’t run unless you are financing yourself, that is terrifying for democracy.”
“Terrifying for Democracy” could be the heading for our era in future public school textbooks. Assuming, of course, we have public schools. Or textbooks. Or a future.
I thought of quibbling at Biss, with his Harvard degree and MIT doctorate, casting himself as a regular joe. But I guess on the Pritzker scale he is.
We do seem to be at a watershed moment when it comes to our nation’s long slide back into the Gilded Age, when the rich crowned themselves in laurel branches and ate banquets on horseback while the poor sold matches in the street.
Here’s the part I don’t understand. You would think, being set for life, with enough to endow a dozen generations, the rich would care about the world they are leaving behind. Care about the Earth, about our social framework, which starts to hollow out if 99 percent are in squirming misery. The Republican policy now is a recipe for the 1 percent waking up one morning being tarred and feathered and loaded into a tumbril.
“You would think the super rich, who are obsessed with putting their names on stuff, would care about climate change,” Biss said. “The Koch brothers want to destroy the world so they have $90 billion next year instead of $70 billion.”
He quoted venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, who wrote in 2014: “If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us. No society can sustain this kind of rising inequality.”
Pitchforks. I wouldn’t have believed it before. But we got Rauner. And we got Trump.
“Does it really have to be this way?” Biss asked. “Are we going to be told by Democrats that the only path forward is to pick our own billionaire?”
“I present the public a credible alternative,” he said. “Otherwise, we’ll have 17 billionaires having a meeting every four years to decide who will be governor.”
Someone — I’m not saying who, to throw certain readers off the trail — suggested that voters are backing the wealthy and applauding like seals as the rich tear down the social safety net because they are, for want of a better word, morons.
“I don’t agree that people are morons,” Biss said. “People are quick to gravitate to arguments. I think: ‘Oh my God, Donald Trump is president and he’s terrible. Bruce Rauner is the governor and he’s terrible. Maybe inexperienced billionaires aren’t the way to go.'”