The unremarkable Dick Durbin

Sen. Dick Durbin (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)

Sen. Dick Durbin (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)

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.



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  • A gratuitous character assassination of a decent public servant. Especially when there are so many Republicans who could be criticized for marching in lock-step behind the man you supposedly abhor.

    Let me tell you. If Senator Dirksen were alive today, he'd be revulsed by the current Trump lackeys in Congress and in the administration. He led the fight for the Voting Rights' Act, yes, and what have the Conservatives on the Highest Court done? Gutted it.
    What would he say about Republican efforts to suppress the votes of minorities? He would have fulminated in his inimitable manner, denouncing the betrayal of his convictions and pillorying every Trump lackey in the Senate.

  • As we all painfully know - Durbin is a Dick!! :-)

  • In reply to Archangel999:

    Very well said!

  • In reply to Archangel999:

    You must be proud of that juvenile joke. It's the second time you have used it.

  • > Except that Durbin, like Biden, is a pig in a poke, an enigma who serves the party’s interest above the public interest.

    That's an interesting observation. Given the opportunity to make the same observation about the Republican party, you just decried their loss of a political opportunity.

    I'm wondering, is someone paying you to make such obviously biased posts? When Democrats and Republicans exhibit the exact same behavior, the Democrats are pigs. The Republicans are just missing a good opportunity. Aren't you a little embarrassed by your behavior?

  • In reply to BillDCat:

    No one denies that some Republicans exhibit the same behavior. So shouldn’t you condemn Durbin for the same thing? Nothing that Dennis states is untrue. Are Democrats immune to criticism, the Republicans aren’t?

  • In reply to Get out of IL now!:

    Well, we are on Dennis' blog and it appears the opposite. It seems a bit hypocritical for you to come to a blog that only criticizes Democrats for this behavior and then make a remark about Democrats being immune to criticism.

  • 14 years a Rep, 24 a Senator. Quite a pension coming to him.

  • I will get ripped for this, but let’s not forget Durbin’s wife, a lobbyist. Tribune did story on her in 2014 during his last reelection. She gets numerous state contracts, claims she never lobbied for federal contracts, but some come her way anyway, some that are involved with Dick’s committees. Yes, Republicans do the same thing, such as Bill Brady’s family connections to gambling interests. Still doesn’t make it right, that’s the swamp. For those of you that want documentation, as usual, google “ dick durbin wife “ and the Tribune article from 2014 should appear.

  • In reply to Get out of IL now!:

    How about Mitch McConnell's wife enriching her family's business?
    And the Trump clan itself? You don't have a leg to stand on.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    Read closely, I said Republicans do the same thing. Gave an example. So does that mean you ignore it when Durbin does the same things you criticize Republicans for?

  • In reply to Get out of IL now!:

    I guess you should be looking at the guy who has had 4 years to 'drain the swamp' and ask yourself if he is doing anything that he has claimed he would do.

    If not, there don't appear to be many reasons to vote for him...

  • In reply to BillDCat:

    Our business receipts were greater in three years under Trump than in eight under Obama. Our retirement funds bounced back almost 30% under Trump. My wife retired because her pension was indexed to the market in the last 3 quarters she worked and Trumps first three quarters were gang busters. So we said retire. Unfortunately it kept going gang busters and if she worked another year it would have gone up another 12%. Finally, this is #1. Donald Trump is the FIRST President in my lifetime that has not gotten American troops involved in some foreign conflict or war. He pulled troops out of Syria (they said the Turks, Syrians, and Kurds would cause WWIII), Congress has stopped him from removing the remaining ones in Iraq and Afghanistan, but they’re almost all out. He pulled 12,000 out of Germany-the war has been over for 75 years, why do we still have 30,000+ in Germany? Between 13 years in Vietnam, 20 in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US has been fighting wars for over half my life. Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Lebanon, Panama, Kuwait, Somalia, Serbia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, American troops killed because some president had to intervene. Trump hasn’t.
    One columnist wrote the other day, you want two things out of a President-peace and prosperity. Trump delivered.

  • In reply to Get out of IL now!:

    I'll give it to Trump, we've had peace and that's nothing to sneeze at. Obama inherited two wars, so I guess it makes sense for you to hold that against him...

    But, Trump's spent his way to prosperity and we'll be paying for that for a while. Obama inherited a mess and his deficits as a % of GDP went down every year he was in office. Trump inherited a growing economy and his deficits as a % of GDP have gone up every year he's been in office.

    We haven't had anyone talk about deficits in a while, but that's just because Republicans have been in power. If things have been so good, why have deficits as a % of GDP had to grow every year?

    I don't know anything about your business, so I can't explain that to you. But, I was able to google the definition of the word 'anecdote', so there's that...

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