Karen Lewis used to do standup at the Woodlawn Tap.
Before she was a teacher, the president of the Chicago Teachers Union briefly wanted to be a comedian.
She still has a tendency to let loose with both barrels, like Wednesday, when she called Gov. Bruce Rauner “a new ISIS recruit” in front of the City Club.
I winced, because the truth about Rauner is bad enough: our most rigid and immoral governor in living memory, who not only did not accomplish anything he said he would, but, indulging in the extremism that has brought the Republican Party to the edge of ruin, turned his standoff with House Speaker Mike Madigan into statewide paralysis, hurting thousands of the most vulnerable Illinoisans and truly damaging the state’s vital institutions.
Just say that. No need to drag in terrorism. Wild exaggeration is a tactic of the weak, the Occupy movement vilifying a system they haven’t the foggiest notion of how to actually change. Comparing Rauner to ISIS doesn’t hurt him — he’s the most don’t-give-a-damn politician I’ve ever encountered, well, except for Madigan, which is what makes their faceoff so maddening. If they were a pair of dogs with their jaws locked on each other, we could turn a hose on them.
As it is, all we can do is wait.
So I understand Lewis’ frustration.
Her ISIS comment shows she’s backsliding. She should remember the last politician she mocked in such an over-the-top fashion: Arne Duncan, when she made fun of the secretary of education’s lisp. Didn’t hurt Duncan but singed her. I thought Lewis learned her lesson then: She’s a leader now, not at Open Mic Night. But time passes and people forget.
There comes a time when words lose significance — not something I say much, as a writer. I’ve stopped commenting on Rauner and Madigan because they’re like the Zax facing off in the Dr. Seuss story (The north-going Zax, resolutely striding north, encounters south-going Zax, determinedly heading south. End of story). If you asked me what is going to happen, I’d guess that three years will pass and we’ll elect another governor, provided anybody wants the job or there is a state to govern. Maybe everybody will have left Illinois by then, we can revert to a territory and lure the Kickapoo and Pottawatomie back to reclaim the place.
Similarly, I’ve stopped saying anything about Mayor Rahm Emanuel. I see he’s out there, a distant, isolated figure, viewed from the wrong end of a telescope. Forced to register an opinion, I might indulge in Lewis-like exaggeration: the Zombie Mayor, an animate corpse, The Walking Dead, skulking around the shadows of Chicago, looking for a sympathetic place to reveal himself — a pliant alderman’s birthday party! — where he can show off his dance moves and not receive hoots of scorn.
That’s why the Lucas Museum is so important to him. There’s no pressing need. Tourists will still come to Chicago whether Space Mountain gets built or not. But Rahm’s failing everywhere else. The important stuff can’t get done. This can, maybe. It’s legacy time. Look at Richard M. Daley. Tap a Chicagoan on the shoulder and ask, “What did Richie do in his 22 years in office?” Unless you tap a fairly savvy person, they’re not going to say, “Give away the ranch, sowing the seeds for the city’s utter financial ruin.” Instead they’ll say, “He gave Chicago Millennium Park and the Bean.”
Where’s Rahm’s Bean? If he hits his head doing a flip turn in the pool at the East Bank Club tomorrow and drowns, he’d be remembered for mishandling, at best, or covering up, at worst, the Laquan McDonald killing, which jarred him from unpopular to despised. The big problems: the pension, school and violence crises got worse under his watch. Without a Lucas Museum, he got nothin’.