Oh, by the way, Democrat Dick Durbin is running for re-election as Illinois’ senior United States senator. You could easily have missed it, seeing as how his re-election is considered to be the surest thing to happen in Illinois except, perhaps, for political corruption.
Durbin is the odds-on favorite to win even though Illinois voters, if asked, couldn’t really say what he stands for. His 40 years in Illinois politics gives new meaning to wishy-washy, blah and ho-hum. In this, Durbin is Joe Biden writ small.
Durbin isn’t just a problem for the failed state called Illinois. As a party leader, he’s bad news for the rest of America.
Voters can only guess if he welcomes or fears the threats posed to party unity and, not the least, the nation, by the hard left. Lord only knows if he is even aware of the menace. Voters have no idea if, as the “second most powerful Senate Democrat,” he will acquiesce to the extreme left’s coup.
His amiable, get-along to go-along nature explains his rise to the top of Illinois politics, where the key to success is, as described in the title of Milton Rakove’s books about the Chicago and Illinois ways of politics, “Don’t Make No Waves…Don’t Back No Losers” and “We Don’t Want Nobody Nobody Sent.”
Durbin has been docile, passive and submissive. He has failed to forcefully defend moderation, the middle ground or traditional Democrats. His silence is acquiescence. Durbin is in a position to guide Democrats toward reasonable, moderate and workable public policy, but will he? His record screams No.
His sometimes amusing and sometimes maddening habit of contradicting himself during shifts in the political wind is legendary in Illinois, as documented by the late Chicago Sun-Times political columnist Steve Neal. Sometimes “Senator Flip-Flop” will “turn on a dime,” Neal wrote, and sometimes he morphs as if to hope that no one notices. Chief among his turn-arounds is his abandonment of his strong pro-life stance when he was running from a Downstate state legislative district. But when he ran for statewide office, he emerged as a staunch pro-choice champion. On foreign policy, Durbin has been a dove and a hawk, depending on the party of the Commander-in-Chief. Recently, while demanding a delay on a Senate vote on Supreme Court nominee Amy Barrett until after the election, he once proposed a hurry-up, mandatory Senate vote on judges within 150 days.
Some might consider it to be sad irony that Durbin opposed the appointment of a justice who sits on the bench in his own state of Illinois. Or that as a professed Catholic, Durbin would focus on the religious beliefs of a public servant as he did when he questioned Barrett’s Catholic “orthodoxy” during the hearings on her appellate court nomination. And that he would routinely carry water for her knee-jerk opponents during her High Court confirmation hearings. But that’s Durbin for you. Party loyalty and group think above all.
In his characteristically mealy-mouthed way, Durbin laughably responded to his earlier criticism of Bennett by saying that he wasn’t engaging in religious bigotry. He was only questioning her “lack of experience.” Oh, sure. Of course, being a Catholic himself didn’t slow him down.
That’s not the only time that Durbin’s mouth got him in Biden-like trouble. In 2005 he compared the treatment of detainees at the Guantanamo military base in Cuba to Nazi, Soviet gulags and Cambodia’s Pol Pot. Not unexpectedly and in response to bi-partisan criticism, Durbin took to the Senate floor to offer his deep apologies, in the traditional, squishy, “if anything I said offended anyone” way.
Can anyone name a single signature accomplishment from Durbin’s years in politics? Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s legacy is health care. In Illinois, Everett McKinley Dirksen as the Senate GOP minority leader, rounded up more Republican votes than the Democrats did to enact the landmark Civil Rights acts of the 1960s. Durbin has left no similar footprints.
How odd this is for someone who is routinely described as the second most powerful Democrat in the Senate. Among the 45 Democrats in the Senate, he is outranked only by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York. Durbin also was the second most powerful Democrat when Schumer’s predecessor, Harry Reid of Nevada, retired, but Schumer hopped from his Number 3 position over Durbin, having outmaneuvered the Illinois senator, wouldn’t you know.
The party’s Number 2 job that Durbin holds in the Senate traditionally is called the “Whip.” As in whipping rank and file senators into line so they vote with the party leadership. Count the votes, line up the strays and discipline the independent-minded with loss of goodies to hand out to their constituents. From that job description, you might get the impression that someone with strong and demonstrable leadership skills would be perfect for the job.
Or not. Follower Durbin is perfect for the job. Who better to call the cadence than the dedicated follower who has always marched to the tune that’s being played? Who better than the party-line shepherd who is the exemplar of going along to get along? Someone who followed the Chicago political dictate of make no waves, back no losers.
Least we forget to mention it, Durbin does have a credible Republican opponent in next Tuesday’s general election: Republican Mark Curran Jr. a former Lake County sheriff. The Chicago Tribune endorsed Curran, saying nice things about Durbin but recommending that it’s time for him to go. The state, the endorsement said, needs someone who will stand up to the state’s legendary corruption and disfunction that has taken it to the brink of bankruptcy. It was a gutsy think for the Tribune to do.
The Tribune said, “Durbin says he is troubled by the unfolding corruption investigation that has, so far, ensnared numerous members of his party. But there is no sense of anger or urgency at the toll it has taken on voters’ trust toward government.” What the state needs, the Tribune said, is someone who will hold failed leadership in Illinois accountable.
Why should anyone outside of Illinois care? Let Illinois sink of its own weight, right? Except that Durbin, like Biden, is a pig in a poke, an enigma who serves the party’s interest above the public interest. Durbin brings a taste of Illinois politics to national decision-making and in that, Illinois voters don’t seem to care. For Durbin and for the state’s Democratic voters, sending federal taxpayer money to rescue Illinois from its suicidal policies is what matters. Durbin, in effect, is Illinois’ gift to America, a gift that keeps on giving.