Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Illinois election report

Illinois held its primaries for both Democrats and Republicans yesterday.  The reports of voter turnout are somewhat mixed: early voting continues to increase each election, while the election day turnout seems to have been low this time around.  I voted mid-morning yesterday, which typically isn't a busy time at the precinct, but even taking that into account, it was pretty dead: there was one other guy turning in his ballot as I walked in, and after that I was the only voter there.  The election judges informed me I was the 32nd voter at the precinct; there have been other elections in which that number would have been reached before people began their morning commutes.  My wife voted after work and reported taking a paper ballot because all the electronic-voting machines were in use, so it seems it did pick up later in the day.

Republican gubernatorial primary.  The headline races in Illinois were the two parties' primaries for governor.  Illinois is a blue state but its current governor, Bruce Rauner, is a Republican.  Rauner had been elected four years ago as a reform candidate.  Democrats were particularly vulnerable that election cycle because the state was (and still is) in terrible fiscal shape.  The fiscal crisis has been building for decades and has many fathers, but Democrats bore the brunt of blame because they had occupied the statehouse for a decade and had controlled both houses of the legislature for many years.  Rauner has the socially moderate profile of Republicans who have had some statewide electoral success in recent years.  But he's widely considered to have been ineffective as governor -  National Review famously tagged him "The Worst Republican Governor in America" last year.  He also angered and alienated social conservatives in his own party a few months ago by signing a bill presented to him by the Democratic legislature that increased state funding of abortions.  This was viewed in conservative circles as a betrayal, because Rauner, who is pro-choice, had reached a truce with them during the previous election cycle in which they would support his candidacy so long as he didn't pursue a social-issues agenda.

So, in the wake of Rauner's alleged betrayal of social conservatives, he was challenged in this primary by social conservative Illinois House member Jeanne Ives.  Ives is young, a West Point graduate, a pretty strong communicator, and staunchly anti-abortion.  But she entered the primary pretty late, and she was virtually unknown outside her district.  She garnered a good deal of publicity, not all of it positive, by running a commercial that lampooned Rauner's socially moderate positions on abortion, immigration and gender identity. 

Rauner seems to have defeated Ives yesterday, but it wasn't a rout.  The vote totals show Rauner with about 51% of the Republican vote, and and Ives with 48%.  This was a good deal closer than the Rauner camp had hoped, and probably doesn't bode well for his chances in the general election, as it seems to illustrate that the social conservative wing is still pretty disgruntled with him.

Democratic gubernatorial primary.  The Democratic race for governor had its own set of interesting story lines.  Rauner's election four years ago served as a wake-up call to Democrats, although perhaps not in the way that many Illinois voters had hoped: Rauner was elected on a reform platform, but the lesson that many Democratic leaders seemed to draw was, "Holy smokes, we just got outspent by a rich guy.  We need to find a rich guy of our own."  They're not wrong in their assessment of Governor Rauner, who was a hedge fund bazillionaire before running for governor, and spent many millions of his own dollars to fund his successful campaign.  So Democratic leaders went out and recruited a wealthy candidate for this cycle: JB Pritzker, scion of the Pritzker family that owns the Hyatt Hotel chain and has many other financial interests.  Pritzker, like Rauner four years ago, is new to politics.  It quickly became apparent that Pritzker was the choice of the Democratic Machine, which meant that he had the backing of Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, the boss of the machine and the single most powerful person in the State of Illinois.  As expected, Pritzker self-funded his candidacy - according to some reports, he spent as much as $35 million of his own money on the race.

Even though Pritzker had the backing of the Democratic organization and bottomless personal wealth which he was spending freely, he had a half-dozen or so primary rivals.  Two of them emerged as his main challengers: Chris Kennedy and Daniel Biss.  Kennedy is one of the Kennedys, a son of the legendary Robert Kennedy.  Perhaps readers of  NewGathering aren't aware that the Kennedy clan has established a Chicago branch; this is because, until about 20 years ago, the Kennedy family owned the Merchandise Mart, a stupendous building in downtown Chicago which served as one of the family's chief sources of income.  Like Rauner and Pritzker, Kennedy is a political neophyte and personally wealthy.  Naturally, the prospect of a Kennedy as governor has been catnip to the Chicago media, and Kennedy also ran a creditable campaign: he came across as a principled and independent progressive.  He earned the endorsement of many newspapers throughout the state, and he exhibited Kennedy toughness in the face of Machine attacks on his candidacy.  Had I voted in the Democratic primary, I would have voted for him.  Some members of my family did vote for him. 

Daniel Biss is a state senator who staked out the Bernie Sanders territory in this primary.  Unlike his chief rivals, he is not personally wealthy - a circumstance he used to his political benefit in the campaign.  Like Sanders, Biss attracted the support of progressives and young people.  At least one of the college-age young persons in my household voted for him.

Pritzker was far ahead in the polls during much of the primary campaign, but in the last couple of months, both Kennedy and Biss inched closer to him.  Pritzker absorbed barrages of media assaults by both of his opponents, and also from expected GOP rival Rauner, who didn't wait until the general election to begin running negative ads, including an effective series that played FBI recordings of Pritzker cutting deals with disgraced former governor and current jailbird Rod Blagojevich.  But the results yesterday show Pritzker winning pretty comfortably, albeit with less than a majority - as I write this, he is standing at 46% of the vote, with Kennedy and Biss both in the mid-20s.  We see here something that is observable in many primary elections: the third candidate spoils the upset possibility for the challenger.  As much as I like Kennedy, it's difficult not to conclude that, had he chosen to sit out this cycle, Pritzker may not have cruised to the easy win he did yesterday. 

Illinois 3rd US Congressional District. I had written previously here at NewGathering about the Democratic primary for the Illinois 3rd US House district, in which incumbent Dan Lipinski, a conservative Democrat, was challenged by progressive first-time candidate Marie Newman.  Lipinski holds views that are not mainstream Democratic Party views on abortion and immigration, but had the support of most labor organizations, including police and firefighter unions; many of those public-service employees live in his district, and in Cook County, organized labor support frequently is decisive.  Newman's campaign was awash in funding from progressive outside sources, and she also had the support of the SEIU.  As I write this, Lipinski is clinging to a very narrow lead - reportedly just a few hundred votes - and Newman hasn't conceded yet.  It's possible that, had this election had the higher turnouts that happen during presidential election years, Newman would have won.  I wouldn't be surprised to see her back in 2020.

Other races.  The winning GOP candidate for state Attorney General, Erika Harold, is a former Miss America who used her beauty-pageant winnings to pay for her Harvard Law School tuition.  She seems to be respected as an attorney, although it surfaced during the primary that she answered one of those beauty pageant questions by stating that she wouldn't allow same sex households to adopt children.  But she clarified during the campaign that her position has changed and she now strongly supports same sex adoption.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the issue didn't seem to hurt her in a GOP primary.  Her Democratic opponent will be Kwame Raoul, an African American candidate who succeeded Barack Obama in Obama's state senate seat when Obama ran for president in 2004.  Raoul won a crowded primary with considerably less than 50% of the vote.  So Illinois' next Attorney General will be an African American (Harold also self-identifies as African American). 

And Cook County voted to legalize marijuana.  The resolution was non-binding, but is expected to help the effort to make pot legal throughout the state.  I voted for legalization, reasoning that it's better to make it completely legal and tax it.

Now and Forever: The Art of Medieval Time

The following was submitted by Bob Ginsberg, a reader and occasional commenter here.

Anyone who is interested in the history and influence of the Church in the Middle Ages will be fascinated by the exhibition at the Morgan Library in New York City titled Now and Forever: The Art of Medieval Time.  The idea of the exhibit is to show how the Church’s concepts of history and of time permeated all aspects of life, including thoughts and activities.  Included in the exhibit are extraordinary examples of church calendars and secular calendars (hard to tell apart) and Books of Hours that are beautiful in themselves but also evocative of daily life.  The exhibit is described on the Morgan website.  It ends on April 29th.

Monday, March 19, 2018

NCR gets it. But it's doubtful that many others do

How many years have the PTB been wringing their hands and gnashing their teeth over the loss of tens of millions of Catholics in the US?  And in Europe? And increasingly in Latin America?

How many years have the PTB tried to come up with programs and gimmicks, new liturgies and old liturgies,  to keep people, especially the young adults, in the pews?

How many years have they refused to look in a mirror.

How many years have they refused to examine their collective conscience to see how they and the doctrines they hold onto as if they were "Truth" - rather than doctrines that very often reflected the cultures of earlier eras - to see how these doctrines have driven and continue to drive people from the church, especially the young.

For years they have blamed everything and everyone but themselves.  Ultimately they blame those who leave. Blame the victim, Catholic church style.

NCR recognized this years ago. Now there is to be a new program, a Synod no less, and there was a sort of kick-off conference at Notre Dame with Barron as a key speaker. Barron!   So the young neo-cons, the young Latin mass types will cheer, and the rest will just continue to head out the doors.

This is NCR's editorial

Editorial: Young people are not the problem


If the recent conference at the University of Notre Dame [1] — where speakers postulated reasons for young people's disassociation from the Catholic Church — represents the approach going into the upcoming Synod of Bishops on young people, we would beg church officials to postpone the gathering.

What we heard was a familiar litany, placing blame for missing young people on:
  • Technology — specifically youths' obsession with smartphones — which supposedly robs them of the contemplative mind and makes them "suckers for irrelevancy."
  • An aversion to "orthodoxy," a term the user brandished with the certainty that his strain of orthodoxy is the immutable version of the truth.
  • The "dumbing down of our faith."
  • The pervasiveness of pornography and relativism, of course.
  • And a new danger — the "bland toleration" of diversity, a curious addition.
According to this analysis, it is the young people, not the church, who are in crisis. By this analysis, the very institution that young people find so wanting that they have nothing to do with it nonetheless knows all of the questions and has all of the answers. This analysis imagines a "kairos moment" when scales fall from young eyes that no longer gaze at screens nor at pervasive porn as they become aware of their deficiencies and their state of crisis.

What a self-satisfying assessment. And what a relief. It isn't that healthy young people might be repulsed by the way that church leaders mishandled the sex abuse crisis for decades. Nor is it the money scandals or callousness toward gay and lesbian Catholics or the bishop-driven one-issue politics that has reduced religion and faith to a bumper sticker in the culture wars
No, they say, the problem lies with young people who have acquired culturally influenced defects.
The cultural critique has value, of course, and the disaffection of young people from all manner of institutional involvement — from the local symphony orchestra to the Rotary Club — needs continued examination to figure out how institutions can be relevant to young people.
While dwindling numbers of Catholics are no doubt due to some extent to these social forces, there is much more to consider in the case of the church. Before becoming too convinced that the reason for the disaffection lies with everything and everyone else, church leaders need to seriously examine how their own shortcomings and failures have contributed to young people leaving the church.
It is reasonable to understand that teens and young adults, living in a civil culture that increasingly accepts their LGBT friends and family members, find unacceptable the intolerance and outright discrimination of some Catholic officials and organizations.

It is understandable that a young person would rather not be part of an institution that preaches God's mercy but shows little mercy toward divorced and remarried parents.
Young people, especially young women, who know how their mothers and grandmothers struggled to gain equality in the wider culture, don't care to become involved in an institution where women are marginalized. What can they think of an institution that bars women from its most important deliberative bodies while women hold the vast majority of ministry positions in parishes and dioceses?

Is it surprising that young women might avoid an institution where only men are ordained to preside over the community's most profound moments?
Isn't it also reasonable, speaking of vocations to the priesthood, that parents might hesitate to encourage their sons to join a clerical culture that has been depleted not only in numbers, but also in credibility and moral standing?

Could it be that only the tiniest representation of young people will be attracted to parishes and dioceses dominated by legalists and doctrinal "rigorists"?

Fear no longer works to fill the pews or keep people compliant. The people of God are looking for inspiration. The young — all of us really — are looking for authenticity. Examples of people who walk the faith and live the heart of the Gospel are more convincing than hours of apologetics and glitzy presentations on up-to-date delivery platforms.

Unless church leaders at the highest levels thoroughly examine how our community became so distorted — corrupt like a white sepulcher — a synod about attracting younger members will ultimately prove a waste of time and effort.

Perhaps the breathless pursuit of young people in its embarrassing obviousness should be set aside to give church leaders time for deep reflection on what it means to be authentically humble. Replace fanciful answers to questions few are asking with a simple sign, containing one line, in each bishop's office: "You may be the problem."

Friday, March 16, 2018

Happy Birthday to Us

I just thought I would note here that NewGathering is now one year old (plus a few days), the first post having appeared March 9, 2017.

Thanks to all the contributors, commenters, and readers!

Meanwhile, back at Commonweal ...

... the email blast I get from the magazine called out that Commonweal is going on the road.  The magazine has scheduled a series of three Commonweal Conversations:
  • April 30 in New York: Anthony Domestico in conversation with Christian Wiman
  • May 11 in "Bay Area, CA" (venue is still TBD): Matthew Sitman in conversation with Dorothy Fortenberry and Kaya Oakes
  • May 29 in Chicago: Dominic Preziosi in conversation with Cardinal Cupich
If you're interested, you can register at the link in the first paragraph.  Seems to be a free event.  I registered for the Chicago event.  If anyone is present, or lurking, who would like to come and meet me in Chicago, I can promise you that I am less scary in person.  I'm all about the face-to-face interaction, much to the delight of one or two of our regulars and, I think, the consternation of some others :-).  And if it's over a cold and frosty one, we're getting even closer to my conception of what heaven must be like.  Or if shaking my hand is more than you want to deal with but you are still interested in the event content, go ahead and stay anonymous and we'll see each other there only not realize it.

The Ramblers' secret weapon [Updated]

Those of you of (ahem) a certain age may recall that Loyola University of Chicago won the NCAA men's basketball national championship in 1963.  Since reaching the peak of the mountain 55 years ago, it has been mostly valleys for the Ramblers.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Someday we'll be sorry

 Some day, when and if the country comes back to its senses, it will be ashamed of what it let the Immigration and Customs Inforcement Service get away with during the Great Immigration Scare. It bothers my conscience that my grandchildren won't be able to say I fought it at the time, but I am old and so are my sources, and my megaphone isn't what it was.
 So I will burden you, briefly.
 The sins of ICS are reported sketchily and piecemeal -- the 7-year-old and her asylum-seeking mother separated and detained 2,000 miles apart, the solid citizens of many years' standing whose communities try to stand up for them while the agents carry them away. But this is an organization that probably shouldn't exist, and if it is needed, it has to undergo a thorough cultural change if it is to function in a free country. In The Week, Ryan Cooper pulled together a rap sheet to support the headline "End Ice."
 It's worth a read. More media should get on it.
 Even during the Obama administration, before the climate turned favorable for swaggering while armed, I was hearing from police chiefs and deputy sheriffs that their agencies did not like working with ICE. The people ICE take into custody rarely see a rigorous court, only overworked jumped-up magistrates, and its rare for them to have a defense attorney. As a result, other law enforcement sources say, they make lots of errors and lousy cases.
 Law enforcement qualms are one of the many motivations for so-called sanctuary city ordinances.
 Of course, since I was hearing that, the restraints have come off.
 Like torture, unfettered immigrant-bashing during the Great Immigration Scare is something that will go into our history books with Palmer's Red Raids of the early 1900s and the McCarthyism of mid-century as an embarrassment to future Americans. But this one can be stopped before it does more harm.