Friday, August 3, 2012

If we really want to change the culture of corruption in Illinois, we need to change our conversation by Jane Artabasy

I'm a retired teacher. Being stuck in the middle of this horrendous pension brouhaha is not my idea of a fun time, and I'm both furious and frightened at the prospect before me for my old age. (Forget "golden years." Being old, in any way shape or form, is hard, not golden, even if one is healthy and active)…

After trying to distill the waves of rhetoric and sputtering indignation about teachers' relative security after retirement, I can certainly see both sides of the pension-gutting question. (Oops! Sorry! The spinmeisters call it "pension reform" and, of course, all of us should use their branding of any issue. How shallow of me.) But after all is said and done, the basic question of integrity, ethics, and honesty remains: for decades, we have had a contract with our state government. We honored our side of the deal. We had no choice, and the legislature did not for those same decades.

Ergo, teachers are the victims, not the villains here; state government represents a particularly unsavory collection of weasels. Therefore, the consequences of this fiasco should be borne by the perpetrators of bad faith, not the public servants who give their lives, hearts and minds to the well-being of other people's children. Yes, I understand the bottom line: there is no money.

My answer? Let's go get some. For years, since the Reagan ideology hit the proverbial fan, too many citizens have accepted the poppycock that government is always bad and the private sector is the only refuge for competence and intelligence. This fallacy has provided a rickety soapbox and lots of bumper-sticker thinking for everybody who hates paying taxes (most of us).

But this hate-government silliness has cursed us with unintended consequences. Private enterprise has been extorting and blackmailing us to escape the price of their citizenship (for example, Caterpillar).

Of course, capitalism is about money and profit, not good citizenship. Nevertheless, that doesn't mean corporations don't have to join the party anyway, even if kicking and screaming. Big businesses have plenty of money. We need to go get at least a part of it and stop being paralyzed by sanctimonious threats about moving to "business-friendly" states. This asocial thuggishness they tout as good policy needs to be challenged by a consumer response with spine. Go ahead and move to Alabama, or wherever, but don't expect Illinoisans to buy your products. Good, thoughtful government demands a decent investment FROM the citizens of our state, as well as IN the citizens of our state, by any entity aiming to make money here.

Of course, this needed push-back becomes more difficult year after year, as big money equates with big power, and big power is the currency of governance. If we really want to change the culture of corruption in Illinois, we need to change our conversation away from the “awful greedy teachers” mantra to extracting revenue needed for public commitments; [we also need to change the focus] of the plutocrats who presently control the conversation.

--Jane Artabasy

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